Climate Reality Project’s Gowanus Expedition

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 joined community members on a tour of the Gowanus Canal. The tour was led by Richard Kampf, a Gowanus Canal Conservancy board member and local environmental consultant, and Klaus H. Jacob, a professor at Columbia University. This was one of eight planned ‘expeditions’ being conducted worldwide by the Climate Reality Project to raise awareness about the potential local impacts of climate change. If you aren’t familiar with Climate Reality Project then 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 change 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’ …

The guided tour around the Canal included a discussion lead by Mr. Kampf on…

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

Specifically, the tour gave an overview of the Gowanus watershed area, local planning initiatives, and how places like Gowanus and its Canal are similar to other areas around the world. 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 has served on the New York Panel on Climate Change  (NPCC) and worked on the Climate Change in New York State ClimAID report, 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 twice a day. He also explained that 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.

Professor Klaus Jacob of Columbia University and Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory

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 explained how close the city was to major flooding, especially regarding 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 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 a 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 on Julia Whitney Barnes‘ 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 the Gowanus Canal Conservancy plans on adding tree pits and rain gardens to help with storm 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, and they have added bird feeders all along the Canal to ‘imply’ that animals still can live in the area. Plus, 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.