estuary-maine-spiritofamerica-sstockWhen it comes to climate change impacts, estuaries are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine. These unique habitats, which are also home to 22 of the world’s 32 largest cities and are essential hubs for global commerce, face not just the threat posed by rising sea levels, but also a complex nexus of increasing storm risks, droughts, water and air pollution and marine dead zones.

However, these escalating environmental risks also have helped establish estuaries as centers for what Maggie White of the International Secretariat for Water and her colleague Philip Enquist of SOM Architecture describe as a “new generation of civil engineering” — an emerging school of thought that recognizes how the natural habitats of the past could be key to delivering the climate resilience we will need in the future.

So-called eco-engineering concepts never have been more popular and delegates gathered at the Global Estuaries Forum in Deauville, France, last week heard of a host of examples from around the world where developers and city planners are using natural engineering phenomena to reduce flood risks and improve water quality. There is certainly a need for them.

Moreover, only 4 percent of the world’s 500 largest developing world cities, many of which are facing the most severe climate impacts, are deemed investment grade and creditworthy, making raising the capital necessary for climate resilience projects extremely challenging. The financing issue may be less acute in developed nations, but even here government austerity programs have meant numerous countries have seen flood defence budgets cut. All of which means that the appeal of eco-engineering concepts that use lower cost measures such as mudflats, reed beds, and sand bars rather than hard engineering levees and sea walls is growing fast, not least because these new approaches are not just cheaper, they are often more effective as well.

Continue reading here to learn more about eco-engineering projects in the Netherlands and in Toronto.