Richard Kamfof Gowanus Canal Conservancy, Professor Klaus Jacob of Columbia University, Paul Reale of Climate Reality Project

On a gorgeous 60 degree April… erh… January day, a group from Climate Reality Project along with community members was given a tour of the Gowanus Canal lead by the Gowanus Canal Conservancy board member and local environmental consultant Richard Kampf and Klaus H. Jacob, a professor at Columbia University. The irony, that a bunch of climate change experts were bundle up for the cold, yet sweating because it was one of the warmest winter days in the history of weather. This was one of 8 planned ‘expeditions’ being conducted worldwide by the Climate Reality Project to raise awareness about the potential local impacts of climate change and encourage other communities to do the same.

If you aren’t familiar with Climate Reality Project than you probably voted for Bush in 2000 –just kidding– You might know the group better by its founder, Mr. Inconvenient Truth himself, Al Gore. Climate Reality Project‘s purpose is to bring the climate crisis to the mainstream and promote public conversation in order to solve it. They’re like the Captain Planet team, but only with Ma-Ti’s power of “heart” (see opening sequence if you’ve never heard of this cartoon).

The guided tour around the Canal included a discussion on

“…planning for climate change, climate adaptation,  and climate resilience in Gowanus ….”

–Richard Kampf

Specifically, the tour gave an overview of the Gowanus watershed area, local planning initiatives, local threats like flooding (3rd Ave. & 4th Ave.), and how places like Gowanus and its Canal are similar to other areas around the globe.

Here’s Richard Kampf giving a brief overview of the Gowanus Canal, the infamous Flushing Tunnel, the construction measures intended to reduce CSOs in the Canal, and the super part of Superfunding:

Professor Klaus Jacob of Columbia University and Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory

Professor Klaus Jacob has served on the New York City (NPCC) and the New York State (ClimAID) Climate Change Panels, and did an analysis on how rising sea levels would effect New York City. According to him the Canal has natural tides that rise and fall about five feet (5′) twice a day. He also says the water level in the Canal dramatically increases during a storm surge, which can send water inland by the force of a storm’s wind. The amount of water inland varies depending upon the strength and path of storm. In preparation for Hurricane Irene last August the City of New York’s subway system was shut down completely, and the City required mandatory evacuation for low lying areas, including the Gowanus neighborhood. (Unlike Coney Island residents in the Gowanus area were not ‘forced’ to leave; many ended up staying believing the Canal would not breach its banks.) By the time Hurricane Irene got to New York, it was downgraded to a tropical storm. Professor Klaus Jacob explains the impact the tropical storm had on the Gowanus Canal and how close the city was to major flooding, especially of  its mass transit system:

Throughout the tour Professor Jacob emphasized how the rise in sea level will increase the severity and frequency of flooding of the Canal’s low-lying neighborhoods. He said that New York City needs to plan for a “four foot (4′) sea level rise by end of the century, and about a tenfold increase in the frequency of flooding in the currently designated flood zones.”

Eymund Diegel of Proteus Gowanus and Public Laboratory Board Member was also on hand and offered his insight into the history of different parts of the Canal. Here he talks about what once was in the location of the Union Street Bridge:

The tour stopped at the Second Street entrance to the Canal, home of the Gowanus Dredgers, where a group photo was taken. The group was then given the lowdown from Julia Whitney Barnes on her mural ‘Gowanus Canal Species’ that hangs on a wall along 2nd Street.

The tour went over three of the four Canal bridges and along 6th Street where Gowanus Canal Conservancy plans on adding tree pits and rain gardens to help with the rain water flow.

 tree pits & rain gardens being added to 6th Street in Gowanus

The tour ended where 2nd Avenue meets the Canal. There Hans Hesselein, Director of Special Projects for Gowanus Canal Conservancy, discussed specifically what their organization has done around the Canal. At 2nd Avenue and the Canal, they have added plants to create a small park; they have added bird feeders all along the Canal to ‘imply’ that animals still can live in the area; and they have a huge composting area just off 2nd Avenue between 5th Street and the Canal.

Gowanus Expedition Team

You can check out more on Climate Change Reality Project here
You can find out more about Gowanus Canal Conservancy here