June 25, 2015, by Urban Flood Resilience
Blue-Green Cities Knowledge Exchange Workshop and Symposium, Ningbo China, 15-18th June 2015
Members of the Blue-Green Cities Research Consortium, including Prof Colin Thorne and Dr Emily Lawson, School of Geography, University of Nottingham (UoN), headed over to the Ningbo China Campus (UNNC) for a week of knowledge exchange, project dissemination, engagement with City officials and cultural learning. The Ningbo event, entitled Blue-Green Cities: Integrated Approaches to Urban Water and Flood Risk Management, ran from 15-18th June and brought together UK-US-Chinese academics who had worked together since 2014 on the ‘Clean Water for All’ (CWFA) initiative (funded by the EPSRC). The event was an opportunity to present some of the results of the CWFA project and to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and experience on the advantages of using integrated drainage systems, best management practices and Blue-Green infrastructure to provide sustainable and resilient urban water, flood risk and environmental management. CWFA combines research expertise of the Blue-Green Cities Research Project (led by Prof Colin Thorne at UoN) and Portland-Vancouver ULTRA (Urban Long-term Research Area) Project (led by Prof Alan Yeakley at Portland State University, PSU). CWFA research focusses on whether Portland, Oregon, is a Blue-Green City, and involved co-location research both in the UK (initiation workshops March 2014) and US (extended research throughout May 2014).
UNNC, established in 2004, was the first Sino-foreign University to open its doors in China. The event was hosted by academics in the School of Geographical Sciences, including Prof David Higgitt (Head of School), Dr Faith Chan, Dr Yu-Ting Tang and Dr Jim Griffiths (Environmental Sciences). The campus includes a replica of the iconic Trent Building from the main UK campus (see featured image).
The Knowledge Exchange Workshop was attended by 19 members from six Ningbo Government departments; Ningbo Planning and Design Research Institution, Office of Water Diversion from Outside Ningbo Borders, Ningbo Water Conservancy Design and Planning Research Institution, Ningbo Rural Water Conservancy Management Office, Ningbo Flood Control and Drought Relief Office, and the Ningbo Hydrological Station. The event was kindly support by the Ningbo Association of Science and Technology and the Institute of Asia and Pacific Studies.
Knowledge Exchange Workshop (Monday 15th June)
The workshop began with overview presentations from the three research leaders; Prof David Higgitt (UNNC), Prof Alan Yeakley (PSU, Oregon, US) and Prof Colin Thorne (UoN). Prof Xiaotao Cheng from the Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower (Beijing) then gave an invited presentation on updated urban surface water flood issues and management strategies in China. This is evidently a highly important issue as 642 out of the 654 cities in mainland China are under threat of flooding, which is increasing due to pressure on the environmental system from rapid urbanization coupled with climate change. Prof Cheng introduced the idea of a “sponge city”, where flood risk management moves away from traditional grey infrastructure and includes blue and green space to help improve water quality and create an attractive, healthy environment for the local citizens. 16 pilot sponge cities are currently being implemented throughout China. Prof Cheng stressed the need for urban drainage planning at three scales; river basin, municipality, and community.
Madam Fang Zhang from the Ningbo Planning Bureau then gave an overview of the current water resources and flood control strategies in Ningbo and detailed a remediation project to enhance the role of reservoirs and lakes in reducing flood risk originating in mountainous regions. She stressed the importance of a migration from traditional to modern methods of water conservancy and the recent consideration of culture, education and ecology when engineering new urban flood risk management projects. Like the UK, China have moved away from flood control towards flood risk management, accepting that there will still be flooding but designing strategies to manage the exceedance flows.
Dr Simon Spooner, Atkins Water Ground and Environment Division, then discussed some of the strategies that can help improve the urban environment and make savings in the use of water and energy at the building and urban planning levels. Simon highlighted some of the Atkins pilot collaborations in Chinese Cities, such as the Eco-Low Carbon Urban Planning Methodology.
The workshop ended with a presentation from Dr Emily Lawson (UoN) on understanding and overcoming uncertainty and lack of confidence as barriers to wide adoption of Blue-Green infrastructure for urban flood risk management. She discussed the range of physical science and socio-political uncertainties that hamper decision-making in Portland, Oregon, based on stakeholder interviews carried out with City representatives in summer 2014.
Field Trip to Blue-Green Infrastructure in Ningbo (Tuesday 16th June)
The second day began with a field trip to the Ningbo Eco-corridor Project, a local ‘best-practice example’ of Blue-Green infrastructure within the Ningbo municipality, led by the Ningbo Planning and Design Research Institution. The Eco-corridor Project aims to transforms an uninhabitable brownfield site into a 3.3 km long “living filter” designed to restore a rich and diverse ecosystem and create synergy between human activity and wildlife habitat.
The Eco-corridor was included in the Ningbo Planning Department’s 2002 master plan for the creation of the “Ningbo Eastern New City” and designed to alleviate pressure on the Old City while setting a precedent for a balanced, ecological approach to urban expansion. Through the innovative synthesis of topography, hydrology and vegetation, the Ningbo Eco-Corridor project also serves as valuable teaching tool and model for sustainable urban expansion and development in China’s rapidly advancing economy.
The team then travelled to the main offices of the Ningbo Hong Tai Water Conservancy Information Technology Co. Ltd. to learn about the state of the art technology and monitoring system that is currently being employed to manage the Ningbo urban rivers, reservoir water levels and flood gates. The company President led the discussions and many parallels were identified between the company goals and the UK-US-Ningbo research interests, and hence, opportunities for future partnerships.
Urban Water and Flood Risk Management Symposium (17-18th June)
The remainder of the trip offered an opportunity for academics working in the UK, US and China to present some of their recent research and best practice in the field of flood risk, water management, Blue-Green infrastructure and restoration. 15 minute presentations were given followed by questions and answer sessions.
Research from UK Universities included presentations on:
- Evaluating multiple benefits of blue green urban flood management practices (Richard Fenner, Cambridge University)
- Learning and Action Alliances to develop a Blue-Green vision for urban flood risk management (Emily Lawson, UoN)
- Catchment composition influence on the urban heavy metal and mineral pollution of urban waterways (Scott Arthur, Heriot-Watt University)
- Effects of delta extension on base level rising of the Lower Yellow River (Shan Zheng, UoN)
- Modelling floodplain influence on flow and sediment dynamics of the urbanised creek (Mingfu Guan, Leeds University)
- Evaluating the Multiple Benefits of Blue Green Infrastructure (Malcolm Morgan, Cambridge University)
Research from US Universities included presentations on:
- Urban riparian areas – can effective municipal governance stem the losses and degradation of these valuable green-spaces as cities grow? (Alan Yeakley, PSU)
- Living with water: Changing human-water interactions in the Pacific Northwest streams (Heejun Chang, PSU)
- Perceptions of natural and social landscape characteristics between cities and across scales (Anita T. Morzillo, Connecticut University)
- Climate Change Preparedness: Drinking Water Supplies in the Portland metropolitan region (Connie Ozawa, PSU)
- Urban watershed restoration projects and property values (Noelwah R. Netusil, Reed College)
- Restoring Socio-Ecological Systems: Exploring the Socio-Ecological Connectivity of Green Infrastructure Design and Maintenance (Marissa Matsler, PSU)
- Municipal incentives for floodplain protection, and the origin of the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge (Samantha Hamlin, PSU)
- Exploring cultural influences of communication among green infrastructure development and maintenance stakeholders in Portland, Oregon (Marissa Matsler (PSU) and Faith Chan (UNNC))
Research from University of Nottingham Ningbo China included presentations on:
- Monte Carlo simulation of the combined probability of pluvial and tidal flooding in Ningbo (James Griffiths, UNNC)
- To combine heritage preservation and modern water management: the observation of the utilisation of an ancient Chinese Waterway in Ningbo, China (Yu-Ting Tang, UNNC)
Potential Research Partnerships
At the end of the Knowledge Exchange Workshop, the UK-US team invited the Ningbo City representatives to suggest ways in which the research findings from Portland and the UK could help Ningbo in developing more sustainable urban drainage and Blue-Green infrastructure. There is a challenge in catering these solutions to a Chinese context and taking into account the different regulatory environment, planning system (very fast compared with the UK), density of urbanization, water management issues, e.g. flooding, droughts, sea water intrusion into freshwater water storage, risks from natural hazards, and landuse pressures and development mechanisms.
The UK-US-Ningbo academics also considered how best to share best practice, promote the Blue-Green Vision and potentially make recommendations to the City of Ningbo. Key themes included;
- Investigating the biotic potential of an ecological corridor from the mountainous uplands to the sea (involving research into water quality, physical processes affecting seasonal water levels, vitality of the stream system, sediment dynamics, greenspace and future land use, and the impact of fluvial processes on the marine economy in Ningbo)
- Interactions between coastal, fluvial and pluvial flooding, reconstruction of paleofloods and impacts of projected climate change
- Moving on from the Eco-corridor – how could research be incorporated into policy?
- UNNC campus Blue-Green retrofit to tackle surface water issues and improve water quality in local rivers – a demonstrator for wider Ningbo
- Ningbo ‘Sponge City’ and Five Waters Project – opportunities for UNNC to be involved
- Understanding the motivations (for different stakeholders) for different strategies and long-term management of Blue-Green infrastructure and farmland
- Lessons learned from Ningbo (high density development and a rapidly developing environment) that may address some of the issues facing future urban development in the UK and US
The relationships developed between UK-US-Ningbo academics during the workshop and symposium sets the stage for future research collaborations. The next step is for the UNNC team to refine their research priorities and the UK/US teams to look for synergistic research opportunities.
Blog post by Emily Lawson.