3. Infrastructure, Planning, and Development
This category includes strategies such as protecting critical coastal infrastructure, and creating or modifying coastal development measures (e.g., removing shoreline hardening, encouraging low‐impact development) to increase shoreline resilience.
- Make Infrastructure Resistant or Resilient to Climate Change
- Create or Modify Shoreline Development Measures
- Develop Climate-informed Communities & Community-led Adaptation
Make Infrastructure Resistant or Resilient to Climate Change
This strategy includes incorporating climate change considerations into the design, retrofitting, and development of infrastructure, such as coastal roads and buildings, utility systems, and other structures (e.g., docks, piers, aquaculture facilities).
In the 1980s, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority began to plan for a new wastewater treatment plant on Deer Island in Boston Harbor.34 The treatment plant’s effluent is discharged through a gravity-fed pipe into the harbor. Planners were concerned that projected sea level rise would disrupt the gravity-fed pipe, requiring the installation of pumps. The planners decided to elevate portions of the wastewater treatment plant by 1.9 feet to accommodate for projected sea level changes through 2050—the planned life of the facility—making it one of the first climate-informed infrastructure designs. More recent sea level rise projections indicate that the decision to elevate the plant will likely protect the infrastructure over the next century, well beyond the facility’s planned lifetime.
The downtown area of Olympia, Washington was built on reclaimed land created with hydraulic fill within Budd Inlet, and is 18–20 feet above sea level.35 During extremely high tides, however, the water’s edge can reach 18 feet. Under different sea level rise scenarios, these high tides could transport saltwater through the city’s stormwater system and into the city, flooding streets and causing water damage. In some parts of the city where there are combined stormwater and wastewater systems, higher sea levels could flood the pipes, potentially exceeding the capacity of Olympia’s wastewater treatment facility and causing wastewater contamination. City planners have established priority implementation actions to respond to these risks, including consolidating the number of stormwater outfalls and installing underground water pumps.
- The Inner Harbor Navigation Canal Lake Borgne Surge Barrier, the largest civil engineering project in the history of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was designed to reduce storm surge and flood risk for New Orleans after devastating flooding during Hurricane Katrina.36 The 26-foot-high, 10,000-foot-long storm surge barrier minimizes 100-year flood risk, and features three navigational gates that can be raised in anticipation of storm surge. One of these gates is also buoyant, allowing it to adjust to storm surge changes associated with sea level rise. The surge barrier relocated the focal point of flood protection infrastructure away from the city center, and eliminated the need to elevate 30 miles of existing levees and floodwalls. The barrier operates as part of the $14.5 billion Hurricane Storm Damage Risk Reduction System. During Hurricane Ida in August 2021, the barrier functioned effectively, preventing flooding into the city.
- Brooklyn’s Seagate Rehabilitation and Nursing Center is elevated almost 30 feet above ground to accommodate flooding. In addition, the facility’s emergency power supply is capable of maintaining power to all systems and equipment during power outages. During Superstorm Sandy, the center was able to withstand the floodwaters, the emergency power supply supported services for four days during the local power outage, and staff and patients were able to safely shelter in place during the storm due to the center’s sufficient supply of food and medical supplies (Gregg et al. 2019).
Create or Modify Shoreline Development Measures
This strategy includes incorporating climate change into shoreline management, including shoreline armoring (e.g., rip rap, bulkheads), natural and green infrastructure (e.g., “living” shorelines, vegetation buffers), and policy and planning measures (e.g., managed retreat, setbacks, low‐impact development, limiting development in vulnerable areas). Protective barriers such as bulkheads and seawalls may temporarily reduce risks associated with coastal flooding, but impede natural accretionary processes, exacerbate erosion, and require continual maintenance. Natural infrastructure approaches (e.g., coral reefs, oyster reefs, coastal wetlands) provide various ecosystem services and are typically associated with lower maintenance costs. Policy measures, such as setbacks, zoning, and managed retreat, require extensive coordination with residents and industry, but can be effective tools for maintaining coastal communities in light of climate change.
- Save The Bay in Providence, Rhode Island, has worked on several coastal habitat restoration projects to increase coastal resilience to storm surge and sea level rise.37 Efforts are ongoing to reestablish native salt marsh plant communities, and decrease the height and vigor of the invasive Phragmites australis. Additional efforts include dam removal projects and creating bay-friendly backyards. Over 650 dams in Rhode Island have been constructed for the purposes of water and power supply and recreation. Save The Bay has partnered with federal, state, and local groups to remove dams to restore natural habitat and wildlife, improve natural sediment fluxes and beach nourishment, and improve water quality (e.g., temperatures, dissolved oxygen levels). Save The Bay also educates local landowners on environmentally-friendly landscape designs and practices. The Bay-Friendly Living guide provides recommendations to homeowners on how to limit polluted water runoff and increase watershed resilience.
Despite the long-term use of stabilizing structures, the City of Pacifica, California has battled chronic flooding and coastal erosion for decades.38 In the early 1990s, the city partnered with the California Coastal Conservancy, Pacifica Land Trust, and Philip Williams and Associates to develop a managed retreat strategy. The project focused on restoring natural processes and habitats through the removal and/or relocation of structures, expansion of tidally influenced wetlands, and restoration of eroding banks. To further protect its coastline, the city is developing a sea level rise adaptation plan in addition to updating its Local Coastal Program to account for sea level rise.
- Kailua Beach, located on the island of Oahu, is at risk from a number of threats including overdevelopment and sea level rise.39 The University of Hawai‘i Sea Grant College Program, Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources, and the Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands developed a comprehensive beach and dune management and land-use development plan for Kailua Beach. The plan provides longterm recommendations and strategies for adapting to climate change. Based on the model projections, in the next 50 years the dune morphology will change at Kailua Beach, although not substantially. In the next 100 years, however, with approximately three feet of sea level rise, the dunes could shift behind existing homes. One potential adaptation option is the use of a coastal construction control line that is established to prohibit seaward development; this line could be adjusted every five years to account for beach changes.
- Newtok, a coastal Native Alaskan community, has been attempting to relocate due to ongoing shoreline erosion from ice melt, coastal storms, and thawing permafrost.40 Newtok is currently building a new village (Mertarvik) on higher ground nine miles away for its 400 residents. Funding constraints have limited progress on relocation efforts. For example, the Innovative Readiness Training Program constructed an access road from the barge landing to the new village site in 2010, and in 2011, they started working on an evacuation shelter to protect the current village and community members from flooding. However, construction of the evacuation shelter and relocation efforts were temporarily halted due to funding constraints as well as internal political disputes. Part of the funding issue, according to local experts, was that neither the state nor federal government acknowledge that climate change qualifies for disaster relief funds (i.e. Stafford Act). Funds have been gathered in a piecemeal fashion from sources such as the State of Alaska, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Denali Commission, and Housing and Urban Development, and are being used to build the Mertarvik Evacuation Center and new housing units. In 2018, the Federal Emergency Management Agency partnered with the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management to buy seven homes, allowing approximately 50 residents to move.
- The village of Taholah, one of two major tribal population centers of the Quinault Indian Nation, is located at the confluence of the Quinault River and the Pacific Ocean. Increased coastal and riverine flooding are combining to damage existing infrastructure and erode available space. The existing village is home to about 660 residents in 175 homes, along with a school, post office, stores, and tribal office spaces. The tribe decided to relocate the lower portion of the village to about 120 feet above sea level via a Relocation Master Plan. The upland relocation site was selected by considering the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s 1-in-100-year flood zone and the tsunami hazard zone (Quinault Indian Nation Community Development and Planning Department 2017). Buildings are under construction at the new site, including a community center, school, and housing. H.R. 4502, an appropriations bill recently passed in Congress, included funds to support tribal relocation efforts.
Develop Climate-informed Communities & Community-led Adaptation
Local engagement and planning are key to the implementation of adaptation measures. Community-led efforts enable residents to engage in problem solving and develop local solutions that are reflective of a community’s unique characteristics. This includes opportunities to reflect on how social determinants, such as cost of living, race, transportation options, and general environmental quality, affect a community’s ability to cope with climate change, and build the capacity of residents and community leaders to implement adaptation measures.
The Galveston Bay Report Card provides a scientific assessment of the Bay’s health in order to inform and engage community members on actions that protect and preserve the estuary.41 Residents indicated that they wanted to learn more about how climate change is impacting Galveston Bay, particularly changes in water temperatures, sea level rise, pH, dissolved oxygen, and freshwater flows. The Report Card aims to raise public awareness and promote collective action (e.g., reducing personal energy usage, volunteering on oyster reef restoration). In 2019, the Report Card Champion Program was created to train local community groups and students on how to better advocate for the protection and conservation of the Bay.
- The Gulf Restoration Network (now Healthy Gulf) is an environmental advocacy organization that seeks to unite residents to protect and restore natural resources.42 By empowering local communities, taking legal action against industries that have degraded Gulf Coast and community resilience, and monitoring government action to ensure sustainable management of contemporary natural resources, Healthy Gulf is restoring and maintaining the natural systems that both define and protect Gulf Coast communities. The Sustaining Coastal Communities Initiative and the Defending Wetlands Initiative are helping regional communities restore natural features to enhance storm protection and resilience. A large part of these initiatives focuses on corporate accountability, demanding that corporate activities that have increased community vulnerability to climate change impacts be rectified. For example, Healthy Gulf is ensuring that fines from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill are used for coastal restoration projects that enhance resilience. Healthy Gulf also works directly with communities impacted by unsustainable corporate and governmental practices, and has helped file several lawsuits to hold companies accountable for resilience losses.