Sea Level Rise Guidance for Dorchester County, Maryland

Created: 12/18/2010 - Updated: 3/02/2020


Dorchester County is Maryland’s second largest county and includes over 350,000 acres of wetlands, tidal marshes, creeks, and other low-lying lands. Around half of the county’s landscape lies at elevations below 4.9 feet, making it one of Maryland’s most at-risk counties to sea level rise. With financial and technical support from Maryland’s Coast-Smart Communities Initiative grant program, the county developed Sea Level Rise: A Technical Guidance for Dorchester County. This plan covers four planning phases and strategies: Vulnerability and Impact Assessment; Long-Range Comprehensive Planning; Codes, Regulations, and Development Strategies; and Public Education and Outreach. The county reviewed existing plans, development codes, regulations, and laws to ensure the necessary policies and codes were prepared for the reality of the county’s climate future impacts, specifically sea level rise and coastal storms.


In 2009, Maryland launched the Coast-Smart Communities Initiative to provide a support center for local governments dealing with the impacts of climate change. The Coast-Smart Initiative initially undertook three projects in Somerset, Worchester, and Dorchester counties, some of Maryland’s most at-risk coastline areas. The Coast-Smart program provided financial support for the county’s adaptation planning processes through the Coastal Communities Initiative (CCI) grant program, as well as much needed technical support.

The county conducted a vulnerability assessment prior to writing the sea level response document, and found the county and its infrastructure, natural resources, and economy were extremely vulnerable to climate change. The county is already experiencing many impacts from climate change including sea level rise, flooding, erosion, salinization, coastal storms, infrastructure damage, and economic losses. The technical guidance document addressed the vulnerabilities identified in the assessment and made recommendations for the county.


The technical report identifies four distinct planning strategies/phases that need to be addressed when planning for the long-term implications of sea level rise: Vulnerability and Impact Assessment; Long-Range and Comprehensive Planning; Codes, Regulations, and Development Standards; and Public Education and Outreach.

The recommendations in the Long-Range and Comprehensive Planning and the Codes, Regulations, and Development Standards sections of the guidance document address the vulnerabilities identified in the county's vulnerability assessment. The recommendations focus on sea level rise, flooding, and storm surge issues.

The Long-Range and Comprehensive Planning section of the guidance document instructs all agencies whose mandate is affected by changes in landscapes to (1) conduct vulnerability assessments to identify and quantify the extent to which their programs will need to adapt to climate change and (2) incorporate future conditions into future planning, management, and policies. The guidance document recommends the creation of a Sea Level Rise District using the 25-year high scenario inundation maps from the Dorchester County Inundation Study: Identifying natural resources vulnerable to sea level rise over the next 50 years. The district would have specific policies and ordinances, such as infrastructure improvements to sewage systems, wells, roads and bridges, and houses to prepare for impacts such as inundation, storm surge, and sea level rise. The guidance document also outlines the need for low impact development along shorelines including setback requirements and support for abandonment, relocation, or raising efforts for any infrastructure that will sustain damage by inundation. The SLR District will also identify suitable areas to accommodate sea level encroachment and work to restore barriers islands to act as buffers for the county.

The guidance document also includes an extensive section on Public Education and Outreach using a variety of mediums to reach different generations and economic classes. These efforts focus on educating people about the impacts that climate change will bring and information on the options county residents have to abandon, relocate, or raise their property.

While the plan itself is not an implementation document, the county has since taken steps to achieve the programs, projects, and desired results recommended.

Outcomes and Conclusions

Since the Sea Level Rise: A Technical Guidance for Dorchester County document was written in 2008, the County has included the majority of the recommendations into their management codes and plans. Dorchester’s population, housing, infrastructure, and critical facilities are better prepared for future climate conditions and impacts as a result.


Information was collected from interviews and online resources. Updated 12/18/10


Hitt, J. (2010). Sea Level Rise Guidance for Dorchester County, Maryland [Case study on a project of the Maryland Chesapeake and Coastal Program]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE:… (Last updated December 2010)

Project Contact(s)

The Maryland Chesapeake & Coastal Program, administered by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, is a partnership among local, regional and state agencies. The Program collaborates with many private organizations, such as local land trusts and economic development groups. Through this networked approach, no one agency or department is responsible for Maryland’s entire coast. Rather, all partners help to ensure its proper management.

The Department of Natural Resources leads Maryland in securing a sustainable future for our environment, society, and economy by preserving, protecting, restoring, and enhancing the State’s natural resources.


Scale of Project
Community / Local
Sector Addressed
Conservation / Restoration
Land Use Planning
Transportation / Infrastructure
Water Resources
Target Climate Changes and Impacts
Air temperature
Habitat extent
Infrastructure damage
Oxygen concentrations (hypoxia)
Salinization / Saltwater intrusion
Sea level rise
Storms or extreme weather events
Water temperature
Climate Type
Type of Adaptation Action/Strategy
Natural Resource Management / Conservation
Incorporate future conditions into natural resources planning and policies
Capacity Building
Design or reform institutions
Create new institutions
Increase organizational capacity
Coordinate planning and management
Increase / Improve public awareness, education, and outreach efforts
Conduct / Gather additional research, data, and products
Infrastructure, Planning, and Development
Create or modify shoreline management measures
Sociopolitical Setting
Effort Stage
In progress

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