It's high time to plan for the high tides with global projects.
BY MARK GUARINO
ILLUSTRAT ION BY FRANCESCO BONGIORNI
By 2050, the cost of flood damage in the world’s coastal cities is expected to reach US$52 billion per year —nearly nine times the 2005 average of US$6 billion.
The world’s oceans are rising—and so is pressure on civic authorities to prepare. By the end of this century, sea levels could increase more than three feet. That’s especially dire news for the world’s coastal cities: By 2050, the cost of flood damage in those areas is expected to reach US$52 billion per year— nearly nine times the 2005 average of US$6 billion. Growing populations mean more people are at risk.
This global plight carries added urgency in Asia, where many of the world’s catastrophic floods occur, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. From 1950 to 2000, floods on that continent surged sixfold. Of the 10 cities most at risk from coastal flooding by 2050, six are in Asia, and much of the continent’s population lives on floodplains.
Consider China: Of the 10 floods resulting in the greatest loss of lives from 1900 to 2013, seven took place here, according to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters in Brussels, Belgium.
While a population boom and commercial growth have transformed China’s economy, they are also forcing the country to quickly strengthen its infrastructure to protect urban areas often lacking up-to-date engineering and construction technology.
China is responding to the issue, says Clive Evans, international business director at Hydro International, a water-management company based in Clevedon, England. Hydro International is working with authorities in Beijing and a number of other Chinese cities to create a sustainable urban drainage system that mitigates flooding.
Stakeholder management has proved one of the greatest challenges of working in China, according to Mr. Evans, who notes it can be difficult to persuade top Chinese engineering officials and other project gatekeepers to adopt new methods.
“Even their greatest engineers are the most risk-averse people you’re likely to meet. They want to know who else has done it,” he says. “It’s a question of proving that our technology can work on the scale required in China and in its environmental conditions.”
Like Beijing, cities across the world are launching projects to meet flood threats. Meanwhile, project practitioners are facing waves of challenges involving stakeholders, risk management and budgeting constraints.
For cities, flood control isn’t just a state of emergency. It’s a fact of life, says Robin Bloch, PhD, director of planning, land and economic development for ICF GHK, a consultancy in London, England, and co-author of Cities and Flooding: A Guide to Integrated Urban Flood Risk Management for the 21st Century. “There is a need for municipal authorities to see this is not just something that needs to be dealt with now and again, but to be considered more in concert with the ways cities grow and expand.”
That’s easier said than done. Project practitioners face the challenge of getting stakeholders with sometimes differing or competing interests on the same page when it comes to strategy.
Ten Coastal Cities at the Greatest Risk for Flooding
“It’s often very difficult to make partners see the benefits of collaborating,” says Djeevan Schiferli, a business development executive in The Hague, Netherlands for IBM, a PMI Global Executive Council member. “We may be able to explain, for instance, that if we put sensors on a particular levee and monitor it with a satellite, we can do a better job, but to the person responsible for the dike, he might say any change is a risk.”
In June, IBM, in collaboration with four partners, launched Digital Delta, a project that will use big data to inform flood control and water management in the Netherlands. To achieve stakeholder buy-in, Mr. Schiferli holds workshops with the partners to explain the benefits of collaboration. He also shares data and knowledge across silos so no party feels left out of the conversation. The workshops allowed IBM to show its partners the benefits of the technology and how it relied on all the groups to communicate and share information with each other.
Dr. Bloch likewise stresses communication: Project managers must emphasize how risk accompanies rapid urban growth, especially in developing countries where infrastructure is frail.
“There is a need for municipal authorities to see this is not just something that needs to be dealt with now and again, but to be considered more in concert with the ways cities grow and expand.”
—Robin Bloch, PhD, ICF GHK, London, England
“Floods affect everybody. Poor people tend to be more vulnerable, but at the same time, it’s not as if wealthy residents of cities are immune from flood risk,” he says. “The common vulnerability that affects different groups does provide a basis for understanding the urgency of the situation.”
“It’s often very difficult to make partners see the benefits of collaborating. We may be able to explain, for instance, that if we put sensors on a particular levee and monitor it with a satellite, we can do a better job, but to the person responsible for the dike, he might say any change is a risk.”
—Djeevan Schiferli, IBM, The Hague, Netherlands
Project practitioners must weigh cities’ existing flood-control systems against the risk of pressure from burgeoning populations, he says. While there is no single standard for this type of risk management, project teams—which tend to operate in isolation—need to communicate across geographic boundaries. They must become knowledgeable about cutting-edge techniques and engineering developments in other places, particularly cities with a long history in flood mitigation.
In China, an entrenched sense of cultural independence leads project teams to attempt to tackle problems on their own. By communicating shared interests, project managers can ensure that “collaboration and cooperation” among partners and contractors remain on target, Dr. Bloch says.
Without cooperation, flood-control projects could go the way of Thailand. The Thai government, looking to avoid a repeat of the country’s devastating flood in 2011, announced a US$11 billion flood-control project later that year. In June 2013, it awarded about half the work to Korea Water Resources Corp. Soon after, however, Thailand’s central administrative court halted the project, finding that the government failed to gain adequate public input or conduct environmental assessments.
Same Problem, New Way
When it comes to flood-control projects, perhaps no country serves as a better example than the Netherlands—where more than a quarter of the land lies below sea level and more than half the country is at risk of flooding. The Netherlands’ US$7 billion Delta Works program constructed dikes and other fortifications such as a movable barrier built to withstand a 1-in-10,000-year storm—the strictest standard in the world.
Such extensive projects don’t come cheap. The complex Dutch water system costs US$9.3 billion to maintain, and that’s expected to increase by more than US$1 billion by 2020.
“The combination of public and private sectors with science can generate friction and slow the speed of decision making.”
One major national project designed to keep costs manageable while still anticipating major flooding events is Digital Delta, a collaboration among IBM, Rijkswaterstaat (the Dutch ministry for roads and water), local water authority Delfland, Deltares science institute and the Delft University of Technology. Using software developed by IBM, the project intends to develop a new management system that will assemble and analyze real-time data from sources as wide-ranging as water-quality monitors, levee sensors, weather modeling and radar to best determine how to divert flooding from low-lying areas, and to prevent disasters and environmental degradation.
The Netherlands receives water from the majority of rivers in Europe, and 75 percent of the cargo destined for Western Europe works its way through its channels. Last year’s drought led to low water levels, which threatened commerce and forced the government to figure out how to use existing data to cultivate action plans for forecasting and mitigating extreme weather events.
“All these things are interrelated,” says Djeevan Schiferli, a business development executive for IBM in The Hague, Netherlands.
Managing five partners is no easy task, especially when public input is integrated into the process, says Mr. Schiferli. “The combination of public and private sectors with science can generate friction and slow the speed of decision making.” To prevent inevitable stalls, he initiated a biweekly meeting to discuss progress. Also, every two months, the partners host a public meeting to inform and solicit ideas; by next year, he expects they will have enough outside knowledge to make more informed decisions.
The town of Fargo, North Dakota, USA is in the fourth year of developing a US$1.8 billion project to divert the Red River, which has historically caused catastrophic damage in the region, most recently in 2009, when water levels exceeded 40 feet (12 meters). The federal, state and local effort will create a 36-mile (58-kilometer) diversion.
The project aims to gather funding from multiple groups: the U.S. government (US$800 million), the states of Minnesota (US$100 million) and North Dakota (US$450 million), and a city/county sales-tax hike that will generate US$25 million annually for the next 20 years.
Because the funding comes from various sources, it has been the greatest project hurdle, says project manager and city administrator Pat Zavoral. Political leaders pushed for commitments to their states, while the city passed a tax increase. Meanwhile, the project began without confirmation that all the money will come through, as stakeholders await federal funding authorization from the U.S. Congress.
Mr. Zavoral says the project scope, which includes hundreds of engineers from outside firms, requires an internal management structure composed of city managers and county administrators each assigned to administrative committees tracking progress. The committees meet twice a month while top leaders gather for quarterly meetings with local elected officials and Corps of Engineer staff and administrators.
“It’s a pretty complex hierarchy of different groups to coordinate this effort, and the project manager is responsible for guiding all of them,” he says.
Figuring out which tasks to prioritize was easy. Under a new floodplain map submitted to the city by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), many homes in the Fargo region will be added to the 100-year floodplain—a high-risk area in which homeowners with federally backed mortgages must purchase flood insurance that is no longer federally subsidized. The project will create what FEMA deems certified flood protection, allowing the at-risk homeowners to opt out of purchasing the expensive new insurance.
“The common vulnerability that affects different groups does provide a basis for understanding the urgency of the situation.”
—Robin Bloch, PhD
The challenges in the research-and-development phase, which began in June 2013, involve the opposing ways private and government partners operate, Mr. Schiferli says. Private partners tend to set a budget first and then work toward a targeted end result, while government tends to work in segments as money becomes available. Mr. Schiferli says that both a 12-month deadline and a budget of US$7.3 million were established to force all the partners to work until “time and money is up.”
“The method calls for interesting discussions because it’s unnatural in how these projects typically get done,” he says. “The government has said they want this program to provide broader access to data and the reuse of tools and solutions that will lead to lower costs, so it also requires a bit of faith from them to stick with this new methodology.”
Another challenge is working with individuals from different disciplines—pumping specialists, farmers and others—who are being asked to share data but who may have no depth of knowledge of fields outside their own. “It means people need to start talking to each other,” Mr. Schiferli says.
Hurricane Sandy prompted New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to propose a US$20 billion plan to fortify the city against future flooding. Infrastructure improvements include installing floodwalls, protecting the power grid, upgrading building foundations and exterior walls, and creating permanent levees.
“We need to protect the communities upstream,” says Mr. Zavoral, adding that higher-levee construction is an early project priority. “We want those in place before the construction of the diversion.”
When cities don’t plan for floods, they can only react. In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy left billions of dollars in damage in its wake along the U.S. eastern seaboard, knocking out power and destroying homes and businesses. In New York, New York, USA alone, the storm left 500 million gallons (1.9 million kiloliters) of seawater in the city’s mass transit system and overall damage estimated at US$19 billion.
The disaster prompted an immediate partnership between the state’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the New York City Department of Transportation, the Port Authority and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps dispatched a special task force to figure out how to empty the water to get the trains moving again.
“We had to move very quickly so we could ascertain what the problems were and what the likely avenue would be to address those problems,” says Roger Less, senior project manager for the U.S. Army Corps’ Unwatering Task Force.
After his team members arrived from their office in Rock Island, Illinois, USA, Mr. Less says they did “a site reconnaissance” of the subway system to determine the types of resources needed to address the problem and mobilize. “You’re having to do a rapid needs assessment just to see what Mother Nature left us,” he says.
That review included mapping, on-the-ground observations and interviews with first responders and infrastructure engineers. “The fact that this was the first time this had ever happened to New York meant developing relationships very quickly to form a team that was responsive,” Mr. Less says.
The task force set up pumps throughout Lower Manhattan that removed 116,000 gallons (439 kiloliters) per minute. The greatest challenge, he says, was sorting through the “organized chaos” of multiple response agencies during an unprecedented flood situation in a city that did not have a prepared unwatering plan.
The hurricane prompted New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to propose a US$20 billion plan to fortify the city against future flooding. Infrastructure improvements include installing floodwalls, protecting the power grid, upgrading building foundations and exterior walls, and creating permanent levees.
Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal also features an inaugural unwatering plan, including a guidebook to give future emergency responders maps, engineering data and point-of-contact information. It aims to protect the city not only from terrible storms but also an inevitable reality: By 2050, New York City’s sea levels could be 12 to 29 inches higher than those brought by Hurricane Sandy. PM
From periodic flooding to bad smells to the threat of botulism, the city of Kitchener, Ontario, Canada faced a water-management crisis that had been slowly building for decades. To solve this crisis, the city would have to devise and implement an innovative budgeting plan.
Created in the 1890s, Victoria Park Lake is located in downtown Kitchener, inside the city’s oldest park. Yet in places, more than six feet (1.8 meters) of sediment blocked water flow, leading to flooding and other problems. “This was really in the public’s mind and was an issue that had to be addressed,” says Nick Gollan, Kitchener’s manager of storm-water utility. So the city began construction on the Victoria Park Lake Improvements project in 2011.
The preliminary design revealed that rehabilitation of the lake would cost CA$10 million and would entail dredging 60,000 tons of sediment and an additional 40,000 tons of native material to deepen the lake’s bottom. A retaining wall consisting of thousands of concrete and stone blocks would be needed to prevent erosion, and a waterway near the mouth of a nearby creek would have to be widened to slow water flow into the lake and capture future sediments upstream of the lake in a forebay.
Early on, the project team defined a critical path to ensure budgets and schedules would be met, Mr. Gollan says. That critical path allowed the team to assess priorities, identify milestones in the schedule and provide alternatives if those milestones were not achieved. Without such a path, “you’ll get distracted and go in different directions, and things get delayed,” he says.
For example, the team members knew weather would be an issue. They needed to finish construction by March 2012, when the fisheries would open, which meant finishing the project in the country’s winter months. They not only had a milestone date, but they also created a remediation plan if it was not met.
Budgeting was also a concern. The original budget was set at CA$16 million, which included upstream improvements to protect the lake, but tendered costs subsequently came in higher than anticipated for the lake improvements, leaving insufficient funding to complete them. So the city had to work “in a mad scramble,” Mr. Gollan says, to find savings with the contracting and design teams.
To close the budget gap, Kitchener created a new funding model that charges a tiered flat fee each month based on the amount of water runoff generated from properties relying on the system, which was traditionally underfunded through the tax base. The city added the fee to monthly utility bills and then set up a phone bank to answer customers’ questions.
This meant the team had to shore up public support for the new user fee. “There was a consistent message going out to the community to explain the service we were providing,” Mr. Gollan says. A credit system helped: If owners refurbished their property to better manage storm-water runoff, they received up to a 45 percent credit. More than 4,000 people signed up.
In 2011, the fee generated CA$13 million, which both helped to fill the project’s budget gap and is expected to fund subsequent flooding and water-quality infrastructure projects, Mr. Gollan says. The lake project became just one component of a complete overhaul of the city’s storm-water management network, estimated to cost CA$129 million over 10 years.
Early on, the project team defined a critical path to ensure budgets and schedules would be met. That critical path allowed the team to assess priorities, identify milestones in the schedule and provide alternatives if those milestones were not achieved.
—Nick Gollan, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada
PM NETWORK NOVEMBER 2013 WWW.PMI.ORG