Climate-resilient city planning with biodiversity at heart

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Cities in Poland have a tough task to make their infrastructure more climate-resilient. The LIFERADOMKLIMA PL project is supporting efforts by demonstrating ways to reduce flood risks and other climate impacts in the city of Radom, leaning on experience in other EU cities.

Radom is a medium-sized city in east-central Poland, with a population of a little over 200 000. It’s a city with very heavy rainfall, averaging 549mm per year (source: climate-data.org). This level of rainfall can cause flooding, and with climate change impacts growing – bringing more frequent, stronger storms – cities like Radom need solutions to manage water flows better.

Other LIFE projects such as DERRIS and Life RainBO have raised city authorities’ awareness of risks to infrastructure, built extreme-weather prediction tools, or set up climate adaption plans for local authorities. LIFERADOMKLIMA PL’s particular feature is to build infrastructure in the city of Radom to show how extreme water levels can be better managed, while also bringing more biodiversity and micro-habitats to the city’s water bodies.

“Intense rainfall causes flash floods and these not only affect the city budget but also contaminate the water in local water basins like Mleczna river – the main water recipient in Radom,” explained Ms Katarzyna Jankowska, project coordinator from the city.

“Additionally, the inner city of Radom has a very high percentage of impermeable surfaces which supply the rivers with extra storm water and also bring flash flooding. This is why the project takes two approaches to accumulate the inflow of the water from the suburbs and to slow down the water runoff in built up areas of the city.”

These problems are typical for many medium-size municipalities in Poland, she added, enabling the adaptation measures applied to address similar issues in other cities. Such measures include:

  • using many types of land and waterways to manage extreme water flows;
  • integrating biological diversity in water management;
  • conducting vulnerability assessments and comparing adaptation options from other cities
  • the project’s GIS (global information system) data platform (in Polish) for residents and experts.

Blue and green preparedness

LIFERADOKLIMA PL’s goal is to make the city of Radom more resilient to climate change by building demonstration ‘blue-green infrastructure’ to manage extreme storm water flows and control local flood risks, and by improving the state of local ecosystems.

9 locations have been identified so far for demonstration purposes. “The aim is to slow down runoff of rainwater to the river as well as to create habitats to improve biodiversity - as a strategy for adapting to climate change and adding value to the project,” explained Ms Jankowska.

The first demo was opened in May 2018 at a public kindergarten in the city, and included a 225 m2 clima-pond – an innovative modular way to collect heavy rainfall which is then released slowly. Clima-ponds have a particular level of permeability which “maintain an adequate level of water to preserve the natural habitats and create micro-habitat for aquatic species”, described Ms Jankowska.

Engineering and biology

Better water management also means better water quality and healthier local ecosystems. A previous LIFE project, EH-REK, successfully demonstrated how sequential sedimentation bio filtration systems (SSBS) can separate storm water flows from drainage systems, and purify urban reservoirs. Under LIFERADOKLIMA PL, the system is being adapted to manage high flows of rainwater drainage and drains in the city centre.

LIFE EH-REK – filtration system in Lodz (see page 15) [pdf]

Traditional methods to mitigate extreme water flows can be costly and only bring the typical grey infrastructure to solve the problem. The SSBS filtration proposed by the project brings graduated buffer zones - sedimentation, biogeochemical and phytoremediation – which support biodiversity and improve the status of the ecosystems.

Together with partners from the municipal work works, the LIFE project team in May 2019 started work to restore the Borki reservoir and parts of the Mleczna riverbed, with the aim to clean up the water as well as turn the area into a recreation and relaxation place for residents. “Our goal is to make the Borki reservoir and its surroundings an attractive destination for our citizens' relaxation and recreation”, explained Radosław Witkowski, Mayor of Radom. The water was already drained in October, a process which involved removing sediment and repairing the weir.

Other types of blue-green infrastructure under development include:

  • marshy-areas known as swales – urban micro meadows which blend into the city and ease infiltration and filter pollutants during heavy rain;
  • tree planting to create areas underground where storm waters can collect;
  • green roofs set up on city centre bus stops to show how to rethink hard, impermeable surfaces.

Public access information

Increased public awareness of how climate change is affecting the city is also needed. This is one of the needs behind the GIS data platform built by the project for Radom city. It shows the results of a climate change vulnerability assessment prepared for the project in 2016, and details exposure, sensitivity, adaptation potential and vulnerability.

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