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Deerfield River Watershed Vulnerability Assessment

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The Deerfield River Watershed Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment Pilot Project will develop risk-based and data-driven protocols for assessing the present and future extreme flood vulnerability of roadway crossing structures within the Deerfield River Watershed. These protocols will incorporate consideration of a gamut of potential climatic stressors and risk factors, including present and future flood hydrological conditions, geomorphic stability, structural flood resilience, potential emergency response service disruptions, and the ability of the natural ecology of the watershed to accommodate flooding impacts.

The goal of the project is to develop a systems-based approach to improve the assessment, prioritization, planning, protection and maintenance of roads and road-stream crossings, and to provide a decision-making tool to be used during project planning and development phases. This will give MassDOT the opportunity to take a proactive approach to upgrading structures vulnerable to extreme weather impacts and future climate change, rather than responding reactively after failures occur. An integrated approach – accounting for the condition of the crossing structure, geomorphic and hydraulic impacts under a changing climate, river and stream continuity (allowing for aquatic organism passage) and the potential for disruption of emergency services – will reduce uncertainties and improve prioritization schemes.

The project team is exploring a variety of methods of different levels of complexity for evaluating the risk of climate related-failures. The project will identify the strengths, weaknesses, and sensitivities of the various methodologies used to analyze each aspect of climate vulnerability. Based on this information, recommendations will be provided for a transportation vulnerability assessment framework that can be systematically and cost-effectively applied to the rest of the Commonwealth.

Project Components

The project will be advanced through the development of four linked components:

  • Culvert condition: As a complement to the state’s bridge inspection program, a rapid condition assessment will be applied to uninspected road-stream crossing structures to identify those that are most at risk of failure due to structural or stream degradation and lateral or vertical movement of stream channels.
  • Climate change and associated geomorphic impacts: A process will be developed to identify elements of transportation infrastructure that are vulnerable to failure during storm events due to change in precipitation patterns as the result of climate change. This includes direct vulnerability due to extreme flows as well as indirect vulnerability due to geomorphic responses to change in climate (such as erosion and landslides) or system-wide adjustments in river morphology.
  • Potential disruption of local emergency services: An assessment of the associated potential of a failure to disrupt local emergency services, based on an analysis of historic emergency response patters, will be performed.
  • River and stream continuity: A process will be implemented to assess transportation infrastructure-related barriers to aquatic and wildlife continuity and identify those sites where mitigation of those barriers would do the most good for fish, other aquatic organism, and wildlife population persistence.

Project Deliverables

  • Electronic maps (GIS) rating potential vulnerabilities for road-stream crossings under current climate conditions.
  • Electronic maps (GIS) rating potential vulnerabilities for road-stream crossings under future climate conditions.
  • An electronic map (GIS) ranking road-stream crossings based on potential to restore river and stream connectivity via road-stream crossing replacement or upgrade based on current climate conditions.
  • An electronic map (GIS) rating the potential for failures at road-stream crossings to disrupt local emergency response routes.
  • A decision support matrix ranking each road-stream crossing based on condition, exposure, sensitivity, ecological passage, and emergency services disruption potential – to facilitate prioritization of MassDOT management actions that address significant threats to the safety of the state transportation network and/or regional ecosystem continuity due to climatic changes.
  • A summary of the FEMA policies under development to approve reimbursement for structural upgrades (versus replace in kind) when such plans are in place prior to a structural failure.
  • A suggested methodology for future implementation in other Massachusetts watersheds, optimized to minimize implementation costs and maximize accuracy.
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