Slowing the Flow for Climate Resilience (SFCR): Reducing Vulnerability to Extreme Flows and Providing Multiple Ecological Benefits in a Non-Stationary Climate

Fiscal Year: 
Project Leader: 
Research Partners: 
Keith H. Nislow (UMass Amherst); Linda Deegan (Marine Biological Laboratory), Chris Neill (Marine Biological Laboratory); Chris Caldwell (CMN); Peter McIntyre (University of Wisconsin); Michelle Staudinger (UMass Amherst), Scott Jackson (UMass Amherst), Melissa Ocana (UMass Amherst), Kim Lutz (TNC)
Project Fellows: 
Science Themes: 

Current and future hydrologic variability is a major driver underlying large-scale management and modification of inland waters and river systems. In a climate-altered future, identifying and implementing management actions that mitigate anticipated flow regime extremes will be an important component of climate adaptation strategies. These concerns will be particularly focused on extreme flows (floods and droughts) that have ecological, social, and economic importance, and whose impacts are inversely proportion to their frequency. Climate warming is expected to increase the frequency of extreme precipitation. It is critical for natural resources conservation that responses to these risks incorporate ‘green’ infrastructure which potentially benefit both ecosystems and human infrastructure.

An overarching strategy of ‘slow the flow’ is increasing transient and long-term storage in upland/upstream compartments (soils, floodplains, headwaters, beaver impoundments) to increase resilience to both floods and droughts. These alternatives do not only reduce flow variability, they also have the potential to generate substantial benefits for species and ecosystems by restoring floodplain connectivity and converting impervious surfaces to forest cover. Evaluating the potential benefits of green infrastructure on climate resilience presents technical challenges and requires an understanding of the diverse array of stakeholder perspectives and needs. We propose to assess the capacity of green infrastructure to provide multiple dimensions of climate resilience, focusing on extreme precipitation (floods and droughts), their immediate consequences (eutrophication of receiving waters), and their implications for major management initiatives (dam removal, stream channel and river habitat restoration). Our objective is to provide decision support, based on the best available science, allowing managers to identify effective strategies for flood and drought resilience in the context of a changing climate, at both local and landscape scales, and along multiple ecological dimensions. This research will help design climate-resilient landscapes that achieve multiple objectives and serve both ecosystems and human communities. Research efforts are focused on four case study locations (Connecticut River basin and Ipswich River basin in the northeast, Lake Michigan and interior Wisconsin tributaries in the Upper Midwest), but results will be broadly applicable at national and even international levels.

The work will be led by the project team consisting of co-investigators from the University of Massachusetts, University of Wisconsin, Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), College of Menominee Nation (CMN), US Geological Survey and USDA Forest Service. Project partners include The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and participating state natural resource agencies.


  • Mooney et al., Extensive spatiotemporal variation of nutrient concentrations in Lake Michigan's tributaries, Society for Freshwater Science, Raleight NC. June, 2017.
  • Mooney, R. (NE CASC Fellow) presented at the National CSC Student and Early Careers Training in Amherst, MA, November, 2016


First Slow the Flow Workshop: Managing the Connecticut River Watershed in an Uncertain Future

UMass Amherst, May 17th, 2018

Agenda, presentations (below), and Final Synthesis Report

Rick Palmer, UMass Amherst & Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center

Climate and hydrologic changes in the Connecticut Basin, Unexpected things to begin to expect (pending)

Keith Nislow, US Forest Service & Northeast Climate Science Center

Slowing the Flow for Climate Resilience

Scott Jackson, UMass Amherst & UMass Extension

Case study on road-stream crossings 

Kim Lutz, The Nature Conservancy

Case study on floodplain reconnection

Melissa Ocana, UMass Amherst & UMass Extension

Pre-workshop Survey Results and Introduction to Breakout