Resilient South Norwalk Project Looks to Combat Climate Change

South Norwalk Reslience ProjectOver the past few decades, South Norwalk has developed into one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Connecticut. It has excellent restaurants and shopping options and boasts a protected historic district and numerous tourist attractions. However, like much of Connecticut, it is vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

In the years to come, researchers expect more extreme weather conditions that can potentially change our experiences within our cities. There is a global drive for cities to innovate and adapt to the effects of climate changes like hotter days, wildfires,more intense storms and flooding. Norwalk, CT is trying to find ways to adapt to the new realities of a changing climate. As part of the Resilient Connecticut Initiative by the Connecticut Institute For Resilience & Climate Adaptation (CIRCA), the City is studying heat, flooding and other indicators of climate change in the city so it can begin climate resilience planning. One part of this effort is placing heat sensors around Norwalk to monitor changes in temperature. Another study in the works is the Resilient South Norwalk Project. Keep reading to learn more about this project.

Why Is South Norwalk at Risk?

The location of South Norwalk along the coast of Long Island Sound and the Norwalk River makes this neighborhood vulnerable to flooding. In 2012, superstorm Sandy showed the dangers of a storm surge in the community.  Connecticut is already experiencing warmer temperatures and higher levels of rain. Rising sea levels and more frequent storms due to climate change are a major risk for South Norwalk. Another significant challenge is extreme heat. Urban areas are often hotter than a natural landscape. High social vulnerability in parts of South Norwalk will worsen the effects of extreme heat. 

What Is the Resilient South Norwalk Project?

The Resilient South Norwalk Project will analyze potential problems the community faces and come up with ways to adapt to the climate risks of flooding and extreme heat. With regard to flood mitigation in South Norwalk, there will be a review of coastal flood and storm surge frequency and magnitude to gauge the current and future impact on the neighborhood. A closer look at the area's roadway and drainage structures will also be conducted. This analysis will allow the City to develop strategies to protect people and historical places in case of flooding.  The project will also study how to set up safe corridors for people to move around during major storm events affecting Norwalk, CT by finding ways to modify important road and train routes. Another part of the study will be to take a look at land use and construction trends to understand how to adapt land and infrastructure to ease episodes of extreme heat. This will focus mainly on areas of the neighborhood where people are most vulnerable. 

How Can the Community Get Involved?

There will be three public workshops to discuss the project, report its findings, and get feedback from the community. Residents will be able to weigh in on building trends, possible solutions to mitigate climate risks, and their needs and priorities for the future of their neighborhood.  The final meeting will include a report summarizing all the research and ways to implement the recommended solutions.  

Adapting the Community to Climate Change

The City of Norwalk believes in planning for the future. The Resilient South Norwalk Project will allow the City to pinpoint the biggest risks resulting from climate change in order properly plan how to resolve them and ensure that South Norwalk remains a vibrant place to live and visit. Contact us to get involved or learn more about this project.  

Environmental Resilience Planning: Heat Study in Norwalk, CT

heat sensor project in Norwalk CTHigh temperatures can harm people and the environment. In the U.S., more than 67,000 people each year go to emergency rooms due to heat-related symptoms. With climate change, heat waves are expected to only become more frequent and severe.  Learning how climate change affects our communities and how we can plan for it is critical. In Norwalk, Connecticut a study is currently being conducted to track changes in the air and surface temperatures to see how it may affect the city and its residents. Keep reading to learn more about the heat study in Norwalk, CT.

Why is Norwalk Conducting a Heat Study?

During hot periods, people in urban areas experience higher temperatures than rural areas. More asphalt, higher concentration of buildings and fewer trees make cities retain more heat.  This is called the Urban Heat Island Effect. Being from a temperate area, most Connecticut residents aren’t accustomed to extreme heat. As a result, area residents face a heightened risk for heat-related illnesses during times of extremely high temperatures. Studies suggest that climate change will intensify the conditions that lead to heat-related illnesses, symptoms that can even prove fatal. Norwalk has also been found a vulnerable zone by the Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation (CIRCA) in a recent Vulnerability Assessment. To prepare, Norwalk is partnering with CIRCA on resiliency projects. The heat study is part of that, and will look at changes in air and surface temperatures over time.

Norwalk, CT Heat Vulnerability Assessment

 

The Goals of the Heat Study

The primary goal of the heat study is to find and map various areas in Norwalk to understand the vulnerabilities of different areas to heat. This will help the city identify at-risk areas in order to develop ways to help the community prepare for higher, more extreme temperatures, like where to place cooling centers. The study will also take a look at urbanization and rising temperatures, such as understanding how certain traffic flows affect heat output in order to put in place effective solutions to combat climate change.     The data revealed by the study will also enable researchers to model inconsistencies and examine the differences between heat sensors and satellite-measured temperatures. 

How the Heat Study in Norwalk, CT Will Work

To gauge temperatures in the city, heat sensors have been placed at 13 locations around Norwalk, from Long Island Sound shorelines and parks to buildings in more urban areas. The study is being conducted from June through October 2022. The sensors are wireless, and are mounted 8-10 feet above ground on trees or poles. They will measure and monitor temperatures and relative humidity. They will also record dew point temperatures at the street level. 

Learn More, Get Involved

The heat study in Norwalk will help find areas of the city that are vulnerable to extreme heat events to inform decisions related to public health and community planning in the years to come, including the development of a community-wide resilience plan. You can find more information at the CIRCA Norwalk Heat Study page. In the near term, the heat study will help to guide the Resilient South Norwalk Project launching in the summer of 2022 with CIRCA.  

Putting the “Walk” in Norwalk: Best Local Trails to Discover

Best Norwalk Walking TrailsThe benefits of walking have been known for a long time. Whether to improve your health, stay in shape, enjoy the fresh air, or take advantage of your natural surroundings, walking is a great way to spend leisure time. Norwalk, CT has many beautiful places to walk, whether you’re looking for natural beauty or interested in more urban, historic sites.

Trails for Nature Walks

Whether you’re an experienced hiker or just looking to get your heart rate up and get in touch with nature, there are plenty of green, open spaces to enjoy.  Cranbury Park is a 227 acre park that offers several wooded trails plus a gorgeous view of the historic Gallaher Mansion. This picturesque setting makes it not only the perfect place to relax and enjoy the outdoors, but the 1.5 mile trail that runs along the river is perfect for walkers and their furry friends! Dog-friendly and absolutely stunning, make plans to visit Cranbury Park to see for yourself. An alternative with better views of the water, another bike and pedestrian-friendly trail to consider is Norwalk’s Harbor Loop Trail. An easy, moderately trafficked trek, you can always find back trails for a little more privacy. Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a leash. Oyster Shell Park can be found near the Maritime Aquarium, but don’t let it’s urban setting fool you, this park gives you a view of the Norwalk Harbor and the Norwalk River. There’s a small parking lot, a fishing pier, and for walkers, there are several paved trails for a breazy, waterside stroll. For a scenic, oceanside option, there’s a 1.5 mile loop from Shady Beach to Calf Pasture that takes you out on the peninsula so you can really breathe in that saltwater air. With a stop by the Norwalk World War I Memorial and several restrooms along the way, there are plenty of opportunities to take in the sites or take a rest stop. Experience the beauty of the Long Island Sound on this easy walk. Sharing a start point at Calf Pasture Beach, the Norwalk River Valley Trail crosses Wilton, Ridgefield, and Redding—all the way to Rogers Park in Danbury. It’s an out and back trail through the Connecticut woods, featuring a ten foot wide, multi-use path that when fully completed will go on for 30 miles.

Discover Norwalk’s Downtown

To learn more about the downtown areas of Norwalk, CT and get some exercise, Discover Norwalk has put together a number of self-guided walking tours that bring you face-to-face with some of the city’s history. On these tours, you’ll discover Norwalk’s legacy of art, heritage, and culture, passing by landmarks such as City Hall, Mill Hill, Freese Park and the Norwalk Public Library.  Another great resource for walkers was developed by the Norwalk Health Department. As part of their NorWALKer Program to encourage residents to be physically active, they developed a series of NorWALKer maps with more than 40 routes through 17 city neighborhoods.   No matter if you’re walking to improve or maintain your health, boost your mood, or learn about your town, Norwalk residents have plenty of options to choose from when it comes to walking trails and routes. So get out there and enjoy!  

Climate Change in Connecticut and in Norwalk, CT

climate change in Norwalk, CTDid you know that the 2010s were the hottest decade ever recorded in the Earth’s history?  Climate change isn’t a potential issue that we may have to deal with in the future. It’s a real problem, with global impacts that are already being seen today. Even if we can’t see the ice caps melting here in Connecticut, it’s an undeniable fact that the climate is changing our environment. To prepare for the challenges ahead, it’s good to educate yourself on the current and future impacts of climate change in CT, and the strategies the government will put in place to solve these issues. The Connecticut climate and geography are already changing. Here are some examples provided by the University of Connecticut’s Adapt CT

Impacts of Climate Change in CT

Rising Temperatures

All over the globe, temperatures are rising. If you live in the Northeast U.S. you may notice that the Connecticut climate in summer is growing hotter and longer every year. There are more ninety-degree days than ever before producing more heatwaves and droughts. 

Vector-Borne Illness

People know Connecticut for the large numbers of ticks in its forests and tall grasses. In fact, Lyme disease was named after the town of Lyme, Connecticut. Warmer temperatures bring more ticks and the increased spread of pathogens.  

Air Pollution

The potential for poor air quality also rises when the days are hotter. Poor air quality leads to health issues, aggravating asthma and other respiratory conditions. It can also affect the heart and cardiovascular system.

Flooding

As a coastal state, flooding is a large issue for Connecticut when it comes to climate change.   Coastal marshes are flooding and drowning, which destroys crucial ecosystems, and homeowners are seeing rising flood insurance rates. Connecticut also faces an increase in precipitation. Climate change causes more intense storms, which means that a lot of rain falls from the sky all at once. That can quickly lead to flood conditions.

Sea Level Rise

Coastal flooding can also be exacerbated by the impacts of sea level rise.  Being a coastal community, Norwalk may be particularly impacted should the worst-case scenarios come to fruition.  This could mean properties permanently or partially underwater, roads potentially underwater and infrastructure impacted.  For further information on sea level rise impacts please see Chapter 9 of the Citywide Plan.

Water Pollution

Pollution from fossil fuel emissions and rainwater runoff hurts many rivers and bodies of water. These bodies of water include the Long Island Sound, and here in Norwalk, Norwalk Harbor, and the Norwalk River.Polluted runoff can negatively impact water-based economies such as shellfishing and recreation. 

Solutions to Climate Change in CT and Norwalk 

The state of Connecticut and city governments are working on solutions to both mitigate the effects of climate change, or make adaptations. Here are some examples of climate actions and plans:

Renewable Energy

The state government has dedicated itself to the decrease of fossil fuel emissions by promoting renewable energy sources. The Global Warming Solutions Act sets targets to reduce emissions by 80% from 2001 levels by 2050.  In Connecticut, the transportation sector gives off the largest percentage of greenhouse gas emissions. As part of the state’s effort to reduce greenhouse gasses, the EVConnecticut program is funding the creation and set-up of electric car charging stations throughout the state encouraging residents to buy electric cars.  In Norwalk, EV stations have been set up in a number of municipal parking areas, including the South Norwalk train station and Maritime Garage.

Water and Wetland Protection  

In Norwalk, about 22% of residents have private drinking water wells that draw mainly from bedrock aquifers. The Norwalk Aquifer Protection Agency  was established in 2009 to regulate businesses located nearby the aquifers to make sure your drinking water isn’t polluted.  The  Norwalk Conservation Commission and Inland Wetlands Agency enforces the State and City’s Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Regulations. The Commission has a compliance officer who reviews building permits for wetlands issues.  Another example of water protection is Norwalk’s partnership with Harbor Watch, an environmental organization, to identify, locate, and eliminate illegal discharges into drainage areas, coastal areas and rivers.

Stormwater Management

The city of Norwalk is taking direct action to prevent stormwater from polluting its rivers and flooding its city streets. For example, the Norwalk Harbor Management Commission created a plan to manage stormwater runoff from the Yankee Doodle I-95 bridge.  Additionally, the city is promoting green infrastructure and low impact development as a way to reduce runoff and facilitate on-site infiltration of stormwater. These measures not only reduce pollution of inland and coastal waters, they can play an important role in reducing flooding. 

Combating the Causes of Climate Change in CT

Even though we’re already experiencing the effects of climate change and global warming, the state and local governments are working hard to promote actionable solutions.  Norwalk is part of Sustainable CT, a voluntary certification program founded by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and other partners.  Norwalk recently achieved a bronze certification from the group in recognition of the community’s sustainability accomplishments.   To learn more about the changing climate in Norwalk, CT, and how the City is planning for it, see pages 141 - 161 of the 10-year Citywide Plan.

See the Citywide Plan 

Norwalk Recognized for Sustainability Initiatives

Norwalk receives sustainability certificationThe City of Norwalk recently achieved a bronze certification from the group Sustainable CT in recognition of the community’s sustainability accomplishments. Sustainable CT is a statewide initiative that encourages and supports communities in becoming more resilient, inclusive and efficient.  In the fall of 2020, seventeen municipalities qualified for certification, meeting the high standards in a broad range of sustainability accomplishments.

Norwalk’s Sustainability Actions

Norwalk demonstrated significant achievements in actions in sustainable impact areas. A few of those initiatives are outlined below. 

Resources and Support to Local Businesses

The city underwent a substantial marketing and tourism program to promote South Norwalk. The Business and Economic Development Department created a Small Business & Main Street Program that includes a storefront improvement program, public art initiative and compacting trash bins that all improve the area visually. In addition, the city conducted a number of business roundtables with local business owners to open and improve communication between City Hall and businesses in Norwalk. Focuses of the initial roundtables included available programs for small businesses and planned improvements for various neighborhoods.

Stewarding Land and Natural Resources

Norwalk created a Watershed Management Plan for three different area watersheds including the Norwalk River, Saugatuck River and Five Mile River. These plans included the participation of a large group of watershed stakeholders. The Watershed Management Plans had a big impact on the adoption of the 2017 Norwalk Drainage Manual and recent City planning efforts. For example, the East Norwalk Transit-Oriented Development Plan places an emphasis on decreasing the amount of impervious surface in the City, which helps to prevent pollutants from running off into the Norwalk and Saugatuck River Watersheds. Actions listed in the Saugatuck River Watershed Plan include water quality monitoring, reducing impervious surfaces, restoring riparian buffers and land protection. In addition, Norwalk helped to fund a 2019 Fairfield County River Report by Harbor Watch, a research and education program located in Westport. The report assessed bacteria levels in 16 river watersheds, including Farm Creek, Silvermine River, Norwalk River and Saugatuck River.  The 2019-2029 Citywide Plan and the business section of the zoning regulations contain green infrastructure incentives for development such as green roofs, rain gardens, solar panels, as well as stormwater management and low impact development goals and actions.

Sustainability and Resiliency Planning

Norwalk’s Citywide Plan heavily focuses on both smart growth and sustainable land development through preserving existing environmental resources. As part of this emphasis, the City will be drafting a climate action plan for Norwalk in the future. The Planning and Zoning Office has already adjusted its staff to include a Land Use Planner to work on environmental issues facing the city and the department has taken many steps towards sustainability through regulation changes. The City is also working on a regional level as a part of Western Connecticut Council of Governments COG's Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan.

Recycling Additional Materials and Composting Organics

A Food Waste Prevention and Food Scraps Recovery Campaign was developed providing residential food scrap collection at the Norwalk Transfer Station and the Rowayton Community Center.  Since the campaign began in July 2020, almost 20,000lbs in food scraps have been composted.

Growing Sustainable and Affordable Housing Options

The City of Norwalk has increased the percentage of affordable units in the city from 11.83% in 2014 to 12.75% in 2018, and most currently to 13.15% in 2019. Norwalk requires that any development over 20 units in most areas and 12 units in downtown areas include workforce housing units, and is looking at lowering that threshold to be any development over 10 units This will allow the City to further expand the amount of newly constructed affordable units in Norwalk which are in high demand. The 2019-2029 Citywide Plan continues this push for affordable housing with goals to provide more diverse housing options and encourage mixed-income developments in the City.  

Support of the Arts and Creative Culture

Norwalk has a very active Arts Commission that promotes arts and culture throughout Norwalk via activities, a website and an art inventory. In 2017, the Arts Commission appointed Norwalk's first Poet Laureate, Laurel S. Peterson, and the current Poet Laureate is Bill P. Hayden. A recent art project for Martin Luther K Boulevard has been recommended for full funding this fiscal year by the Mayor. 

What is Sustainability Certification?

To be eligible for sustainability certification, communities must have accomplished significant goals in nine sustainability impact areas, including community building, thriving local economies and vibrant arts and culture, clean transportation and diverse housing. In addition, certified municipalities must have addressed issues of belonging, equity, diversity and inclusion when implementing sustainability actions.  Collectively, sixty-one municipalities, over 36% of the state’s communities, have earned a Sustainable CT certification. Certification lasts for three years, with submissions rigorously evaluated by independent experts and other Sustainable CT partners. 

About Sustainable CT

Sustainable CT, managed under the leadership of the Institute for Sustainable Energy at Eastern Connecticut State University, includes actions that help towns and cities build community connection, social equity, and long-term resilience.  Sustainable CT is independently funded, with strong support from its three founding funders: the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation, the Common Sense Fund, and the Smart Seed Fund.  Additional support is provided by: the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, Connecticut Community Foundation, Fairfield County Community Foundation, Main Street Community Foundation, and other sponsors. For more information, visit sustainablect.org  

I love the Norwalk coastline and the water. What is being done to protect and improve the water quality Long Island Sound?

There are a huge number of people and organizations working on policy and action to protect the Sound.  Over 9 million people live in the 16,800 +/- square mile watershed that contributes to the Sound, so it is a colossal and complex effort. One big concern is water quality.  If you live anywhere within Norwalk, when it rains...that rainwater eventually makes its way to Long Island Sound. That rainwater unfortunately carries pollutants, trash, and excess nutrients down to the Sound.  As a coastal community, Norwalk has an outsized impact on the water quality of the Sound. Environmental planners approach water quality issues with watershed-based plans. These plans look at how rain and stormwater runoff travel across the land before getting to Long Island Sound. Policies and action items that reduce or retain pollution are spelled on in these watershed-based plans and these plans are referenced in Norwalk’s Plan of Conservation & Development.  Except for those living closest to the coast – your runoff has a direct line to the Sound! – all other portions of Norwalk are part of either the Norwalk River watershed, the File Mile River watershed or the Saugatuck River watershed.  Each of these plans can be found at the Norwalk Conservation Commission’s webpage.  Some watershed areas have active groups working on getting protective action items done, others are looking for community leaders to advocate on behalf of the watershed.

What can I do to increase my sustainable practices and decrease environmental impact?

Sustainability is about approaching our daily activities in a way that provides the best for people and the environment - both now and in the future.  There are many small steps every homeowner or business owner can do.  You may feel your space is small and inconsequential, but cumulatively there are over 22,000 individual parcels in Norwalk and those small actions can really add up to make significant positive change!  Consider:
  • Think about being sustainable before you act.  Many times it is easy to make a sustainable choice – you just have to remind yourself of your choices!
  • Eat locally and seasonally!  Support local farmer’s markets and local restaurants.  Plant your own vegetable or herb garden.
  • Re-sell or donate items for others to use.  By extending the life of any product, you help reduce trash generation and you help provide needed products at a reduced cost.
  • Get your water from the tap.   Water bottles contribute more than a million tons of plastic waste yearly;  find your perfect reusable water bottle.
  • Recycle…and purchase recycled products.   Help support the market for the items you recycle and look for the ‘post-consumer’ label when you purchase new products.
  •  Reduce your energy use.  Choose ‘Energy Star’ products; unplug electronics not in use; use a programmable thermostat; set your thermostat to be comfortable, but not excessively cool or warm.

How can I be engaged in local environmental efforts?

Norwalk has ample opportunities to connect you with other local people who share your concern and passion.  From stewardship of open space to supporting vegetable gardens at our schools, from joining the ‘Osprey Nation’ to ensuring ‘pollinator pathways’, from getting pedestrian trails connected to monitoring water quality, or reducing waste to planting trees – Norwalk has a place for you to be involved!   Contact the Conservation Office for help finding a group that shares your cause.

As predictions of sea level rise prevail, what is Norwalk doing to counter these effects to its coast?

Within the last 5 years there has been an interest in researching and implementing vegetation buffers to the coast of Norwalk. Since the coast of Norwalk is a vital community asset, protecting it is imperative to the city’s future. Some pros to implementing a vegetation buffer are, it can lower erosion and control sedimentation, protect the coastline, and prevent more built structures within the coast. However, there are many hurdles to overcome in order to efficiently enact this regulation. The following concerns for this project:
  • Large portions of preexisting harden shorefronts.
  • Effects of a vegetation buffer the use of each parcel on the coast  (commercial vs. residential)
  • The potential of creating non-conforming structures.
  • Increased cost to homeowner who would be held responsible to create a buffer.
See Chapter 9 of the Citywide Plan. Based on the scenarios outlined in the Citywide Plan, Norwalk intends to prepare a coastal resiliency plan that addresses these issues and provides a roadmap for the City to handle these issues going forward.

How Cities Are Incorporating Green Infrastructure To Help With Storm Surges

As storms have become more frequent and more severe due to climate change, many cities have begun making changes to how they manage these types of incidences with green infrastructure initiatives. These initiatives are to reduce and handle the excess water that storms bring in to urban environments, and even use it to help the environment and economy.  

Why We Need Green Infrastructure

Storm runoff is a greater problem in urban areas where pavement and other non-porous surfaces prevent much of it from soaking into the ground. When rains are particularly heavy erosion and flooding can occur causing damage to property and other infrastructure. Stormwater is also a major cause of pollution. The runoff can carry trash, bacteria and other pollutants with it. Traditionally, the infrastructure to move stormwater safely in cities includes pipes for drainage and water treatment systems.  

What Is Green Infrastructure?

Green infrastructure includes a variety of  tactics to better soak up and/or store water. These could include adding more open space and vegetation such as gardens, planter boxes, green roofs, or swales (a shallow sunken channel) with plants and grasses to help absorb water. Cities can also change existing drainage to better trap and reuse water. For example, rerouting rooftop pipes from draining rainwater into the sewer to rain barrels or cisterns. Other more costly actions include adding permeable pavement that can soak up rainwater and perhaps evene  store it. This pavement can be made of pervious concrete, porous asphalt, or permeable interlocking pavers. This practice could be particularly cost effective in areas where land values are high and flooding or icing is a major problem.

Green Infrastructure in Norwalk

The recently completed Citywide Plan (POCD) recognizes the potential impacts and challenges that climate change poses. The City is beginning to discuss how to address these major challenges. The City is a registered member of Sustainable CT and will be seeking certification. In addition, the City has been considering green infrastructure incentives and requirements into its land use codes. While we are planning for our  future, we are also implementing green infrastructure. In South Norwalk, the Webster Parking Lot will be installing green infrastructure after recent torrential rainfalls flooded nearby buildings several times, including the Bow Tie Cinema. The project envisions adding planters and other types of vegetation, including more trees, to help soak up the water in the lot before it goes into the drainage system.  The city received an Environmental Protection Agency grant of $250,000 through the Long Island Sound Futures Fund to help finance the initiative.  The project is being run by the office of Transportation, Mobility and Parking and the Department of Public Works.    The green infrastructure will not only help ease flooding of the Webster Lot and make it more pleasant to look at, it will also help to keep Long Island Sound clean. Given the close proximity of the lot to the Sound, adding areas to absorb the water in the lot, means fewer pollutants will run into the Sound.  Adding green infrastructure to the lot will prevent more than 6 million gallons of stormwater and 12 pounds of nitrogen from flowing into the Sound annually.