Coastal Resilience: Visualizing Climate Change Impacts and Coastal Hazards and Implementing Solutions in Long Island Sound
Long Island Sound, bordered by New York and Connecticut, is one of the most densely populated coastal areas in the world with an estimated eight million people within its coastal watersheds. Sea level rise, intense coastal storms, and flooding threaten residents and the built and natural environments of these coastal communities. Despite the tremendous investment over three centuries in infrastructure, housing, and other structures, there remain several viable estuaries and river systems of national importance. With climatic change, a new coastal paradigm that balances human responses with sustainability of natural resources is required. In response to this need, the Nature Conservancy (TNC) developed the Coastal Resilience program with towns and villages in Long Island Sound. Coastal Resilience integrates ecological, social, and economic drivers into a web-based decision support tool to empower the implementation of long-term adaptation solutions to coastal climate change impacts.
The Coastal Resilience program, developed in 2007, examines nature’s role in reducing coastal flood risk. The program was designed to integrate a community engagement approach with a web mapping decision-support tool, and serves a collaborative network of practitioners. The Coastal Resilience program approach consists of four steps:
- Assess Risk and Vulnerability: Communities assess risks and vulnerabilities to coastal flood hazards including current and future storms and sea level rise.
- Identify Solutions: Communities identify ways to reduce flood-related risk across social, economic, and ecological systems.
- Take Action: Communities implement nature-based risk reduction solutions at priority conservation and restoration sites.
- Measure Effectiveness: Communities need to ensure that efforts to reduce flood risk while increasing community and ecological resilience are successful.
The Coastal Resilience program’s website provides:
- multiple, interactive web mapping tools to empower decision makers to visualize different inundation and/or flooding scenarios;
- information to analyze the potential ecological, social and economic impacts of different scenarios;
- adaptation options that minimize losses to natural and human communities, including tools and resources that compare the cost-effectiveness of nature-based and engineered solutions; and
- links to projects, video tutorials, reports, and papers to facilitate learning and community engagement and sharing.
Partnerships greatly facilitated the success of the Coastal Resilience program in Long Island Sound. Along with TNC, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies/Columbia University, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Coastal Services Center, Association of State Floodplain Managers, and Pace University’s Land Use Law Center were directly involved in the project . The project covers the coast of New York and Connecticut including two estuaries of national importance––Long Island Sound and the Peconic Estuary.
TNC engaged stakeholders from the very beginning of the program’s development. Through an initial series of workshops and interviews, TNC introduced approximately 100 local planners and managers to the issue and solicited feedback on relevant data sources and ways to tailor the decision-support tool at different scales. During subsequent workshops, review of inundation and/or flooding scenarios were provided along with potential remedies in the form of regulatory, legal, and policy approaches. Resilience-based approaches that were identified and subsequently adopted in different communities include:
- Coastal Retreat/Voluntary Buyouts/Undevelopment – includes removing infrastructure and people from vulnerable areas and creating more naturally functioning coastal floodplains
- Comprehensive Plans and Preservation – includes updating land use planning, zoning, natural resource protection, cooperative planning, and growth and development
- Executive Orders – includes establishing sea level rise task forces and requiring agencies to consider the impacts of climate change in planning or management processes
- Shoreline Management Plans/Local Waterfront Revitalization Plans – includes planning shoreline development, protection of natural resources, ensuring public access, and regulating land use in coastal areas
- Special Area Ordinances for Habitat Preservation – includes protecting particular natural resources and habitats
- Transfer of Development Rights – includes preservation of sensitive natural areas, minimizing development in hazard areas, regulation of development, and post-storm redevelopment planning
- Stormwater Management – includes establishing erosion and sediment control laws, establishing site plan review procedures, protecting against stormwater damage, and reducing pollutants in stormwater
- Floodplain Management – includes protecting development from flood damage and regulating building in floodplains
Outcomes and Conclusions
The Coastal Resilience program has been developed with and favorably received by municipalities, regional planning authorities, and federal and state regulatory and management agencies. It now includes projects in 17 U.S. coastal states as well as the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America. Based on lessons learned from the initial effort in Long Island Sound, TNC launched Community Resilience Building, which puts a greater emphasis on a process to develop community resilience action plans for municipalities, institutions, agencies, corporations, academia, and organizations.
Gregg, R. M. (2020). Coastal Resilience: Visualizing Climate Change Impacts and Coastal Hazards and Implementing Solutions in Long Island Sound [Case study on a project of The Nature Conservancy - Connecticut]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. (Last updated March 2020)