By Holly Kuzmitski, ERDC PAO
“Engineering With Nature®: an Atlas,” was launched at a festive event hosted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for more than 120 guests from private industry, academia and U.S. and international government agencies at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. on January 16, 2019. Described by Corps of Engineers Director of Civil Works James Dalton as an “effective communication tool for the EWN® initiative,” the book highlights 56 unique and successful projects from around the world — of particular importance to flood risk management practitioners are the 30 descriptions of Natural and Nature-Based Features projects.
The EWN initiative was established by the Corps in 2010 to promote more sustainable water resources practices and projects through the intentional alignment of natural and engineering processes to efficiently and sustainably deliver economic, environmental and social benefits through collaboration.
Mary Bryant, a research hydraulic engineer who works primarily on coastal flooding research with the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Coastal and Hydraulic Laboratory, said, “I think the overarching purpose of the book is to change your mindset. The examples and photos help you to better visualize EWN opportunities — the book gets you thinking about how to use natural systems to maximum benefit; it shows you how to think creatively about projects.”
The EWN approach is defined by four critical elements: using science and engineering to produce operational efficiencies; using natural processes to maximize benefit; increasing the value provided by projects to include social, environmental, and economic benefits; and using collaborative processes to organize, engage, and focus interests, stakeholders and partners.
Each project is summarized on the section’s first page and followed with narratives that describe how the project fits the four critical elements. “It was nice to see the key elements specifically addressed — what they mean when they are actually applied to projects as opposed to discussing them as simply concepts,” Bryant said. “There was clear illustration of the concepts, highlighted by concrete examples. It helped to clarify what the key points of EWN are.”
The use of Natural and Nature-Based Features is one facet of the EWN initiative that has been growing internationally. NNBF are natural or created (nature-based) landscape features — such as beaches and dunes, islands, forests, wetlands and reefs — that provide engineering solutions to flood risk management challenges; the features also provide multi-tiered economic, environmental and social benefits. Projects that fall under this category were designated by the NNBF symbol.
“The (NNBF) callouts are helpful because we’re able to focus on those projects with special relevance to flood risk management practitioners: projects that focus on both flood risk management and ecosystem restoration goals,” Bryant said. “The photos give you a general idea about the scale of each project — some projects have a smaller footprint,” she said. “You also get a basic introduction of how something like the concrete reefballs were positioned, for example.”
One example of an NNBF project that addresses coastal flooding is the Long Beach Island Coastal Storm Damage Reduction project, featured in the “Beaches and Dunes” chapter. A joint effort by the Philadelphia District and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the project was completed in 2016. The NNBF, a berm and dune that were extended along the oceanside of the island, were built with sand procured from offshore sources. The features deliver social and economic benefits as they diminish erosion and protect Long Beach Island communities from flooding that can result from extreme weather events.
The Philadelphia District pumps sand onto Brant Beach, N.J., in 2013. The work was part of an effort to restore the coastal storm risk management project from damages associated with Hurricane Sandy. (Photo by Philadelphia District)
Riverine flood mitigation is addressed in the Missouri River Levee Setbacks description, which was in the chapter, “Levee Setbacks and Floodplains.” This description, which outlines another NNBF project, discusses the relocation of a Levee L-575 segment by the Corps and partners from the levee’s previous position near the riverbanks to a location further back. The project reconnected part of the Missouri River to its floodplain, increased flood conveyance and improved the levee system’s resilience.
An aerial panoramic view of Missouri River Levee L-575 Setback project, 2012. (Photo by Dave Crane. Omaha District)
The flood risk management practitioner can also gain insights from other projects in the book. The “Riverine Systems” chapter outlines the 2017 Springhouse Run Stream Restoration project in Washington, D.C., where a state-of-the-art Regenerative Design process was deployed by Underwood and Associates. The process helped the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its partners transform pollutant-tainted water into a stream that self-cleans as it conveys water to larger bodies, harmonizes with the aesthetics of the U.S. National Arboretum and is a source of pride to the local community.
A section of restored stream that abuts a mature stand of hardwoods in the Springhouse Run Stream Restoration project in Washington, D.C. The project was a collaboration between USFWS and other partner organizations. (Photo by Tim Welp, ERDC)
Another goal behind the publication’s creation was to inspire idea sharing between the Corps and Corps partners. For Catherine Wright, a director of Flood and Coastal Risk Management at the Environment Agency in London, United Kingdom, the book will be used as a teaching tool for practitioners in her country to show what EWN can do. Her organization contributed nine projects to the book, with most focusing on mitigating flood risk. “We’ll also be learning from each other about approaches for engaging communities,” she said.
Don McNeill, director of the Natural Infrastructure Initiative and Strategic Growth Manager for Caterpillar Inc., delivered a stakeholder perspective at the book launch. He described his organization as a grouping of like-minded companies and nongovernmental organizations that came together in 2017 to provide a collective national voice to promote and accelerate the advancement of natural solutions. AECOM, Caterpillar Inc., Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company and The Nature Conservancy are a few member companies. “The ‘Atlas’ demonstrates and brings awareness to the many opportunities and solutions that natural infrastructure can provide,” McNeill said. “These include mitigating costs and damages from flood events. We’re very proud that several projects in the ‘Atlas’ highlight involvement with NII members.”
Dr. Lynn Scarlett, Vice President for Public Policy and Government Relations for The Nature Conservancy, also delivered a stakeholder perspective at the book launch. “The risk-reducing benefits of nature’s assets are not hypothetical,” she said. “The Conservancy and other researchers have modelled storm surge and damages from Hurricane Sandy; for example, we found that coastal wetlands prevented almost $625M in property damages.”
“I am thrilled, and the Conservancy is thrilled to work with the Corps,” Scarlett said, describing a project in Hamilton, California, that combines setback levees with floodplain restoration to reduce flood damage and enhance riparian habitat, benefitting both people and nature. “It illustrates the blending of built and natural infrastructure,” she said. “The Corps is helping to pioneer 21st century thinking about infrastructure and how to engineer with nature.”
“Engineering With Nature®: an Atlas” can be accessed online at http://www.engineeringwithnature.org/.