As sea levels rise along U.S. coasts, it may soon get easier for people and local governments to obtain federal permits to build what are known as “living shorelines,” natural or nature-based structures designed to protect communities and infrastructure from extreme storms and flooding even as they protect habitat.
(From Scientific American / by Erika Bolstad)– The Army Corps of Engineers is considering a new category to its nationwide permits that would allow speedier approval of living shorelines, which include wetlands with sea and marsh grasses, sand dunes, mangroves, and coral reefs.
Currently, it’s much faster for property owners in many parts of the country to get a permit for sea walls, bulkheads and other so-called gray infrastructure than it is to get a permit for construction of nature-based systems. If the corps moves forward with the new category, though, permits to build living shorelines could be issued in as few as 45 days, instead of 215, a spokesman for the agency said.
“The living shoreline piece is a part of what we’re pushing as a nonstructural, nature-based method that is a lot less costly,” said Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick, who ushered in the proposed permit during his time as chief of the Army Corps of Engineers, before his retirement last week. “It helps us with our environmental focus; it helps us with the endangered species, perhaps. All of that is a natural way that we can reclaim some of our land and take the focus off of expensive infrastructure.”
The move toward more natural coastline protection comes as federal agencies, state governments, and local and business leaders focus increasingly on the concept of resilience as they plan for how communities will adapt to climate change.
The spotlight on dynamic systems is a major shift for agencies like the Army Corps, which in the past paid more attention to engineered solutions, Bostick said last week during an event at the National Academy of Sciences that focused on the state of resilience in the country. Unlike with engineered solutions, there’s greater uncertainty with living shorelines. Researchers and engineers have less information about how they will respond to sea-level rise, storm surge and other extreme events. They’re learning to be more nimble, Bostick said.
“How do you know the unknowns? Forget about it. You’re never going to know,” Bostick said. “I’m going to accept uncertainty. I’m going to accept a little give in this system.”
Other federal agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, support living shorelines in places where they’re warranted. They work best in more sheltered systems with moderate wave energy, like the Chesapeake Bay, river systems, Puget Sound and even the Great Lakes.
A study by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that about 14 percent of the U.S. coastline is what researchers described as “armored.” A 2015 report from NOAA on living shorelines noted that if coastal populations continue to increase, and if so-called “shoreline hardening” continues at the current rate, nearly one-third of the contiguous U.S. coastline could have sea walls or other gray infrastructure by 2100.
Read the full article here: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/living-shorelines-will-get-fast-track-to-combat-sea-level-rise/