Planning for Sea Level Rise in Rhode Island’s Coastal Management Program

Created: 7/01/2010 - Updated: 3/02/2020


The Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) is charged with regulating activities, including planning and development, along the state’s coastline. In January 2008, the CRMC adopted Section 145 of their Coastal Resources Management Program, which specifically addresses climate change and sea level rise.


Rhode Island is expected to face a number of problems as a result of climate change, including sea level rise, increased frequency and severity of storms, and habitat and biodiversity loss. A three to five foot rise in sea level is projected by 2100 for the state. Sea level rise will lead to increased flooding and erosion, damaging infrastructure and property, and may contaminate drinking water through salinization. In addition, sea level rise may displace entire coastal communities. As part of their mandate through the Coastal Zone Management Act, the CRMC regulates shoreline activities, including planning and development. 


In January 2008, the CRMC adopted a new section of the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Program titled “Climate Change and Sea Level Rise” (Section 145); some new findings and recommendations to address coastal construction were added in May 2009. The CRMC looked at development issues, key priorities, and potential impacts on buildings, infrastructure, and shoreline habitat. Section 145 authorizes CRMC to develop policies and regulations to manage coastal resources and property and protect public safety from hazards resulting from sea level rise. The CRMC is authorized to work with the State Building Commission to incorporate freeboard calculations based on sea level rise scenarios into new development guidelines in order to ensure that buildings are raised above projected flood levels. The CRMC plans to “accommodate a base rate of expected 3 to 5 foot rise in sea level by 2100 in siting, design, and implementation of public and private coastal activities” (Section 145). The CRMC has also acknowledged that the 3-5 foot range is low for sea level rise and that these estimates should be revisited as new evidence emerges.

Outcomes and Conclusions

In addition, the CRMC has been involved in a number of other initiatives in the state, including:

  • Participating in a small working group that includes Rhode Island Sea Grant, the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency, and the State Building Commission to address coastal construction standards in anticipation to rising sea levels and storm events; the group’s main recommendation is to increase freeboard requirements for structures located in A and V zones along the coast.
  • Discussing a plan to address sea level rise impacts on coastal habitats, especially salt marshes. The Council plans to review and map land forms and man-made structures (e.g., seawalls, bulkheads) that may impede the landward migration of abutting salt marshes in the event of a slow and gradual increase in sea level rise. Additionally, the Council plans to identify areas that may provide for landward migration of salt marshes and develop new policies.
  • Coordinating with the University of Rhode Island Environmental Data Center and others on an effort to obtain a seamless LiDAR coverage for the state (and at a minimum, coastal communities) in order to develop accurate elevation data for mapping sea level rise scenarios. This information will help to project the landward migration of flood hazard zones along the coast as sea levels rise. 
  • Managing the development of an Ocean Special Area Management Plan with the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography and Rhode Island Sea Grant that will primarily be used to properly site offshore wind farms to produce clean energy and reduce dependency on fossil fuels.


Information gathered from interviews and online resources. Last updated on 7/1/10.


Gregg, R. M. (2010). Planning for Sea Level Rise in Rhode Island's Coastal Management Program [Case study on a project of the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE:’s-coastal-management-program (Last updated July 2010)

Project Contact(s)

The Coastal Resources Management Council is a management agency with regulatory functions. Its primary responsibility is for the preservation, protection, development and where possible the restoration of the coastal areas of the state via the issuance of permits for work with the coastal zone of the state.


Scale of Project
Community / Local
State / Provincial
Sector Addressed
Land Use Planning
Transportation / Infrastructure
Target Climate Changes and Impacts
Habitat extent
Infrastructure damage
Public safety threats
Salinization / Saltwater intrusion
Sea level rise
Climate Type
3-5 years
Type of Adaptation Action/Strategy
Infrastructure, Planning, and Development
Make infrastructure resistant or resilient to climate change
Create or modify shoreline management measures
Governance and Policy
Create new or enhance existing policies or regulations
Effort Stage
In progress