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Uniting for a Resilient Future: Rice Creek Watershed District Successfully Completes Climate Change Resiliency Planning Project

The Rice Creek Watershed Climate Change & Floodplain Resiliency project has reached a successful conclusion, thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Freshwater Society, Houston Engineering Inc. (HEI), and the Rice Creek Watershed District (RCWD). This undertaking, funded by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), aimed to reinforce the community against the threats of climate change and flooding. This project was one of the projects in the first round of applications in the MPCA Stormwater, Wastewater, and Community Resilience program.

Stakeholders, including community members, local organizations, and government agencies, joined forces to identify vulnerabilities and strengths related to climate change across the watershed in Community Resiliency Building Workshops, led by the Freshwater Society. In these workshops, participants completed mapping exercises and were empowered to understand climate-related hazards and their potential impact on the community. Over 50 community members across the watershed attended these workshops.

RCWD’s Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) took an active role in the workshops as well. “The workshop was a great vehicle for community engagement and idea generation. I really enjoyed the opportunity to meet with like-minded individuals in my community and think through both the risks associated with climate change, as well as potential opportunities for our “watershed community” to come together and help mitigate those risks,” stated Megan Forbes, the current President of RCWD’s CAC, “in a time when many of us feel powerless over the impending “doom”, it felt amazing to be together talking about actions we can do to make a difference. I am hopeful that we can take the workout outcomes and implement those ideas.”

These interactive sessions unveiled important information, revealing vulnerabilities and strengths at both the community and watershed levels. Freshwater Society expertly compiled the workshop outcomes in a detailed report for RCWD.

HEI played a pivotal role in the project, employing its expertise to research hydrologic trends extensively. Utilizing various existing climate change studies produced by federal and state agencies, the team crafted eight distinct storm events that mirrored the intensified nature of rainfall and other conditions. HEI then employed the RCWD District-Wide Model to simulate these storms, precisely identifying a future climate condition rainfall event. The project also generated a future climate conditions floodplain, fostering

 a comprehensive understanding of the risks involved. The RCWD District-Wide model, is a powerful tool that allowed for the assessment of flooding vulnerabilities in communities across the Watershed District related to climate change. Chris Otterness, Senior Civil Engineer at HEI, made a statement regarding the RCWD’s District-Wide Model, “The RCWD’s prior investments in detailed, District-wide modeling created a foundation for the project to build upon, decreasing costs and improving accuracy.”

Recognizing the importance of protecting vulnerable areas from increased flooding due to climate change impacts, HEI worked closely with RCWD to identify potential capital improvement storage project locations. Through simulations using the District-Wide model, the team evaluated these projects’ flood damage reduction benefits. Bret Zimmerman, Civil Engineer at HEI, stated, “With this project, the watershed district is taking a proactive approach to building resiliency in the community related to flood damages.”

The completion of these tasks by HEI and RCWD signifies remarkable progress in advancing climate resiliency within the watershed. The data and insights generated during this project will serve as guiding principles for future planning. The successful collaboration between Freshwater, HEI, and RCWD has paved the way for actionable strategies that address the challenges of climate change head-on.

The project wrapped up in July 2023 and final reports are available to all community members and partners at “This project was an innovative and important effort for RCWD in regard to climate change,” expressed Kendra Sommerfeld, RCWD’s Communications and Outreach Coordinator, “it brought communities across the watershed together to address climate-related hazards and vulnerabilities in the Rice Creek Watershed and develop strategies to improve the resilience of the communities to climate change and flooding.”

Freshwater, HEI, and RCWD extend their heartfelt appreciation to all project partners, stakeholders, and participants for their support and invaluable contributions. RCWD and HEI plan to utilize the final reports to support the future implementation of projects related to climate resiliency. Nick Tomczik, District Administrator for RCWD says, “The results from this project positions the RCWD community for on-the-ground climate resiliency action.”

For additional information about the project, please reach out to Kendra Sommerfeld, the Outreach and Communications Coordinator at the Rice Creek Watershed District,