- According to the Sea Level Rise Advisory Committee, between 8% and 11% of Delaware’s land mass could be inundated by rising oceans by 2100, flooding homes, roads, industrial facilities, wastewater plants and virtually all of the state’s coastal wetlands.
In the year since Superstorm Sandy pounded the mid-Atlantic, people ranging from ordinary citizens and local planners to government agencies and the President of the United States have been analyzing how coastal areas can become less vulnerable to future storms. Delaware has been no exception.
In September, Governor Markell signed an executive order requiring state agencies to take sea-level rise into account in the design and location of state projects. The measure also established a new Governor’s Committee on Climate and Resiliency and called for continued efforts to curb state releases of heat-trapping carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
Governor Markell’s actions were in part, informed by the Conservancy’s work at places like Milford Neck in Delaware and in other coastal states where we have been demonstrating the benefits nature provides in the way of buffering human communities from storms and floods.
“It’s the business we are in – protecting and restoring healthy marsh, dune, wetland and forested habitats intended to support nature and benefit humans whether in the way of recreation, sustenance or in this case, safety,” says Brian Boutin, PhD, the Conservancy’s new Director of Conservation Programs in Delaware. “This work takes on new importance in light of events like Superstorm Sandy since these habitats can also serve as a resilient, frontline defense against flooding while protecting property and economic interests in vulnerable areas.”
In fact, conserving the natural landscape to help communities adapt to a changing climate is a key focus for the Conservancy, especially in Delaware where the Bayshore landscape lays front-and center to a rising sea.
The Conservancy also serves on the Delaware Sea Level Rise Advisory Committee. Comprised of state Cabinet department members and municipal, business, community and other partners from around the state, this Advisory Committee produced two publications which informed the executive order. The most recent, an adaptation report, highlighted 55 recommendations designed to help the state adapt to rising ocean levels in coming decades. The recommendations were based on data collected during a previous assessment which identified areas expected to be most vulnerable to the impacts of sea level rise.
“Most state and local policies and regulations for flood management, emergency management, infrastructure siting, building codes and natural resource management do not yet consider the future effects of sea level rise,” says Susan Love, a Planner with the state’s Coastal Programs section.
Love believes that preparing for sea level rise makes sense since Delaware will very likely feel the impacts in the coming decades, adding, “Proactive planning is also supported by most Delawareans who believe that sea level rise will affect the area where they live and want to be proactive about reducing any impact.”
Aware that people will always want to live and spend time near the coasts, Boutin adds, “The Nature Conservancy is glad to offer expertise and input on the important topic of adapting Delaware’s natural and human infrastructures to a changing climate and rising sea levels. Being proactive will help to ensure we can all enjoy and benefit from Delaware’s coastal areas in the future.”