State and local governments plan for development of most land vulnerable to rising sea level along the US Atlantic coast
Virginia Institute of Marine Science
ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH LETTERS
Rising sea level threatens existing coastal wetlands. Overall ecosystems could often survive by migrating inland, if adjacent lands remained vacant. On the basis of 131 state and local land use plans, we estimate that almost 60% of the land below 1 m along the US Atlantic coast is expected to be developed and thus unavailable for the inland migration of wetlands. Less than 10% of the land below 1 m has been set aside for conservation. Environmental regulators routinely grant permits for shore protection structures (which block wetland migration) on the basis of a federal finding that these structures have no cumulative environmental impact. Our results suggest that shore protection does have a cumulative impact. If sea level rise is taken into account, wetland policies that previously seemed to comply with federal law probably violate the Clean Water Act.
climate change, adaptation, land use planning, sea level rise, wetland migration, shore protection
We thank Richard Alley, Virginia Burkett, Vivien Gornitz, Dork Sahagian, and two anonymous reviewers for critical discussions and review of the manuscript; Many Cela, Neal Etre, John Herter, Andrew Hickok, Russ Jones, Gaurav Singha, Richard Streeter, and Kevin Wright for GIS support; and Jeff Alexander, Teresa Concannon, Walter Clark, Peter Johnston, Cheryl Matheny, and Maurice Postal for data collection and expert elicitation. Participants at stakeholder meetings and the federal advisory committee organized to review the US Climate Change Science Program's report on coastal elevations and sensitivity to sea level rise helped us to understand the need to explain our approach based on the input land use data rather than the output likelihood of shore protection. We also thank 160 state and local planners listed in table S1 (available at stacks.iop.org/ERL/4/044008/mmedia) for explaining key policies and providing data for their respective jurisdictions. During the years 2000-2007, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provided $2 million in contracts, grants, and salaries to support the research reported in this letter. Accordingly, the US government has a royalty-free license to reproduce this letter. For specific author contributions, see the supplementary material (available at stacks. iop. org/ERL/4/044008/mmedia).
Titus, J. G. and Hershner, Carl, State and local governments plan for development of most land vulnerable to rising sea level along the US Atlantic coast (2009). ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH LETTERS, 4(4).