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Project Summary / Overview
The Delaware Coastal Management Program in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) is working on a Sea Level Rise Initiative. Scientists and managers are working to compile information on storm histories, inundation mapping, vulnerabilities to tidal marshes and wetlands, and incorporating resilience into planning and management. This case study provides information on the type of details being collected and the progress on a statewide Sea Level Rise Adaptation Plan.
DNREC is concerned with sea level rise and its resulting impacts, including habitat loss, flooding of low-lying areas, and saltwater intrusion. To prepare for these projected impacts, DNREC and its associated coastal programs have initiated a Sea Level Rise Initiative to educate stakeholders, provide technical assistance, and develop and implement sea level rise policies. The Initiative has four components:
- Provide data for vulnerability assessments and policies
- Hydrology/sediment movement study
- Sediment accretion rate study
- Monitoring gap analysis
- Storm history
- Development of coastal inundation maps
- Tidal Marsh Vulnerability Index
- Sediment elevation tables
- Design pilot implementation projects
- Provide tools, training, and information to stakeholders
- Inform policy development through a Sea Level Rise Adaptation Plan
- This plan will recommend policy changes and be developed with stakeholders including municipal governments, planners, resource managers, and tourism officials.
One piece of the Sea Level Rise Initiative is researching and collecting data for vulnerability assessments and policies through seven studies, which are underway:
- A hydrology/sediment movement study at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge to examine marsh depletion and patterns of sediment flux with plans to use results to create and/or revise marsh management strategies.
- A sediment accretion rate study to collect baseline information on sedimentation rates at marshes in New Castle, the Ted Harvey Wildlife Area, St. Augustine Wildlife Area, and Primehook National Wildlife Refuge. Results will allow managers to have a baseline from which to measure and project sea level rise effects.
- A monitoring gap analysis to identify existing research and data collection and determine the type of information needed for an “optimum coastal monitoring network.”
- An updated history of coastal storms in Delaware.
- Development of coastal inundation maps to predict the most vulnerable areas to sea level rise.
- A Tidal Marsh Vulnerability Index to determine areas viable for conservation and monitoring.
- Sediment elevation tables to measure sediment elevation in intertidal and subtidal wetlands. This will be used in the St. Jones and Blackbird Creek estuaries to provide information that can inform trend analysis of elevation changes.
The Initiative also plans to inform policy development through a Sea Level Rise Adaptation Plan. The planning process to create this plan is a phased approach:
- Issues Characterization Workshop - A Sea Level Rise Issue Characterization workshop was held in March 2009 to raise awareness about sea level rise issues in Delaware and solicit input from stakeholders. Participants identified 61 sea level rise issues in four categories: Economy and Community, Habitat and Natural Resources, Human Health and Public Welfare, and Infrastructure.
- Issue Prioritization - Technical and policy experts will prioritize the social, economic, and environmental impacts of sea level rise and recommend solutions.
- Strategy Development - Experts will attend technical workshops to identify potential solutions and strategies.
- Implementation - Managers and policymakers will begin to implement the recommended strategies.
The plan is largely in the planning phase because of changes in government leadership and a realignment of priorities (e.g., some officials want to expand to a statewide adaptation plan instead of one just focused on sea level rise).
Project Outcomes and Conclusions
Elements of the Delaware Sea Level Rise Initiative are in progress. Through scientific studies and data collection and synthesis, project leads will be able to inform projections of sea level rise and other climate change impacts; educate and provide tools, training, and information to stakeholders; and develop actionable strategies through a state Sea Level Rise Adaptation Plan.