The State of Climate Adaptation in Water Resources Management: Southeastern United States and U.S. Caribbean

The intent of this report is to provide a brief overview of key climate change impacts and a review of the prevalent work occurring on climate change adaptation in the Southeastern United States and U.S. Caribbean, especially focusing on activities as they relate to water resources. The Southeastern United States includes Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Arkansas, and Florida. Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) comprise the U.S. Caribbean region. This report presents the results of EcoAdapt’s efforts to survey, inventory, and, where possible, assess climate-informed water resources action in the region.

The synthesis includes:

  • A summary of key regional climate change impacts and discussion on how the aforementioned issues combine to influence water supply, demand and use, quality, and delivery;
  • The results of a survey sent to federal, tribal, state, and other practitioners to identify challenges, needs, and opportunities for climate-informed water resources management;
  • Examples of adaptation initiatives from the region, focusing on activities in the natural and built environments as they relate to water resources;
  • Eighteen full-length case studies, detailing how adaptation is taking shape; and
  • A guide to the current suite of tools available to support adaptation action in water resources management, planning, and conservation.

Coastal Land Loss and the Mitigation-Adaptation Dilemma: Between Scylla and Charybdis

Coastal land loss is an inevitable consequence of the confluence of three primary factors: population growth, vanishing wetlands, and rising sea levels. Society may either mitigate coastal land loss by engaging in human engineering projects that create technological solutions or restore natural processes that protect the coastal zone, or it may choose to adapt to coastal land loss by shifting development and other human and economic resources out of areas especially at risk for coastal land loss. This Article first details the primary threats to coastal lands. Next, the Article discusses two primary means of addressing coastal land loss— mitigation and adaptation—applying those terms slightly differently than they are used in the broader climate change context in order to focus more precisely on the coastal land loss phenomena and its solutions. Finally, the Article makes three normative claims for why policy-makers should approach coastal land loss mitigation in particular with caution: (1) uncertainty of mitigation’s effectiveness scientifically and institutionally; (2) the political expediency of choosing mitigation over adaptation; and (3) the fact that failure to adapt past land-use activities in the coastal zone has contributed to the need to adapt or mitigate today.

Incorporating Sea Level Change Scenarios at the Local Level

Just as ooding threats need to be factored into coastal community planning initiatives, so too should sea level change. Unfortunately, the “one size ts all” approach does not work.

The level of uncertainty represented in sea level projections is one challenge. Furthermore, universal projections can’t be uniformly applied to all communities because of the many local variables. These variables include subsidence or uplift, and changes in estuarine and shelf hydrodynamics, regional oceanographic circulation patterns, and river ows. Local calculations are needed.

Then add in the local response, where many variables come into play as well. Even if two communities have similar projection numbers, their responses are likely to be widely di erent because of the external factors speci c to their locations that must be considered, such as anticipated local risk, community will, and the type of planning process in which the numbers will be used.

Incorporating sea level change into planning processes involves more than selecting a number. That is why this document advocates the scenario approach.

Using the information provided here, communities can develop a process that incorporates a range of possibilities and factors. With this information various scenarios can be developed, both in terms of projections and responses, to meet the speci c circumstances of a community. Moreover, working through the scenario development process provides the data and information that o cials will need to make communities readily adaptable to changing circumstances. 


Inundation Analysis Tool

Tool Overview: 

The Inundation Analysis Tool is a web-based tool that analyzes how frequently and for how long high tide events have historically occurred, allowing users to better understand saltwater inundation and flooding trends for certain elevations and locations. Users select the site (must be a NOAA CO-OPS tide station), time period of interest, and the elevation for inundation pattern analysis (e.g., mean high water, mean tide level).