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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Slowing the Flow for Climate Resilience: Reducing Vulnerability to Extreme Flood and Drought Events


In the Northeastern U.S., climate change is expected to increase the frequency of extreme precipitation events. However, less rain is predicted to fall in between these extreme events and air temperatures are also expected to rise. This combination of conditions will likely expose the Northeast to both floods and droughts that will have significant ecological, social, and economic implications for the region. Infrastructure damage from extreme storm events, increased competition for water supplies during droughts, and the potential loss of wildlife and habitats are some of the various challenges facing resource managers and decision makers. Management actions that mitigate the damage from extreme floods and droughts are likely to be an important component of climate adaptation strategies and planning.

This project will assess a ‘slow the flow’ watershed management approach which focuses on increasing water storage in natural areas via the reconnection of floodplains to rivers, conversion of impervious surfaces to forests, beaver management to encourage beaver dams, and restoring complexity and sinuosity in stream channels. This approach can decrease the vulnerability of water resources and infrastructure (such as roads and residences) to extreme flood and drought events while providing additional benefits for ecosystems and fish and wildlife habitat.

The project team will convene stakeholder working groups to examine the value, benefits, and challenges of ‘slow the flow’ approaches and develop alternative scenarios for specific watersheds based on future climate conditions. The team will also develop and apply decision support computer models to help managers and conservation organizations develop ‘win-win’ solutions to climate change adaptation that serve both ecosystems and human communities.