Building Communities, Building Resilience

2019-12-09T15:17:24+00:00 December 9, 2019|
(Credit: Jon Sullivan/Pixnio)

(Credit: Jon Sullivan/Pixnio)

From: Ocean News Weekly/ By: Ocean Leadership Staff 

What It Was

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) and the Coastal States Organization (CSO) held a briefing titled “Resilience along the West Coast: Scientific and Policy Innovations Strengthening Communities and the Environment.”

Why It Matters

Over 1 billion people are expected to live in coastal zones globally by 2050, which includes the 32 million people currently living on the United States West Coast. Many of these coastal communities are built at sea level and right up to shorelines, leaving no room for error in managing effects of climate change, such as faster erosion and sea level rise. Sewage plants, airports, roads, ports, and military installations are only some of the important infrastructure vulnerable to and already feeling effects of sea level rise and erosion. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimates up to 1.4 million people will be exposed to daily flooding along the West Coast by 2100 with annual property risks up to $180 billion. However, science-based policy initiatives can help protect West Coast ecosystems and communities from climate change-related coastal hazards.

Key Points

Speakers outlined some climate-related challenges facing beaches and estuaries along the West Coast and provided specific examples of projects protecting both homes and infrastructure while also highlighting legislation, regulations, and programs helping those projects succeed. By sharing how scientific data inform policy decisions around adaptation and help communities define and achieve their resilience goals, speakers presented possible models for other coastal communities. Discussion centered around three main recommendations for holistic solutions: proactive policy, public engagement, and regional coordination.

All emphasized the need for proactive policy based on scientific data and modeling, clarifying that effects of sea level rise and flooding communities already face today will likely persist and worsen as climate change continues. Dr. Charles Lester (Researcher, Ocean & Coastal Policy Center, Marine Science Institute, UC Santa Barbara) described how the California government is balancing environmental and development needs by investing in construction projects that help infrastructure be prepared for or able to adapt to predicted impacts of climate change, which includes working with companies before construction to avoid problems later in the process. He cited successes that include realigning highways to restore shorelines, removing buildings to restore natural beach habitat, and restoring and replenishing beaches and dunes along the coastline.

Also important was the idea that public and stakeholder engagement are key to implementing lasting solutions to climate-related challenges. Dr. Patrick Barnard (Research Geologist, USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center) explained how the effects of sea level rise, including sunny day flooding and large wave events, heighten beach erosion, negatively impacting ecosystems and reducing natural coastline protection. Dr. Barnard shared that the Coastal Storm Modeling System (CoSMoS) of USGS makes their models, such as flooding and cliff retreat projections, publicly available so they can be used by the public and private sectors to inform climate policy and adaptation solutions. Ms. Jessica Fain (Director of Planning, San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission) and Ms. Aimee Kinney (Coastal Law and Policy Research Scientist, Puget Sound Institute) detailed how they encourage participation in their community-based programs that address the motivators and barriers to action and engage communities throughout the process to ensure solutions do not place any undue burdens.

Several speakers explained how regional coordination has made policies more effective by bringing together different sectors and levels of government. They specified how partnerships such as local-state and environmental-business have incentivized sustainable investment and helped regions deal simultaneously with climate and other issues such as affordable housing. Ms. Fain highlighted two examples from the Bay Area that have increased efficacy and efficiency of resiliency projects through collaboration: maps that show transportation, conservation areas, development, and vulnerable communities to identify community priorities; and the Bay Restoration Regulatory Integration Team, which consists of regulatory staff from multiple state and federal agencies whose sole focus is helping permit and process resiliency and habitat restoration programs.


“Resilience is finding that sweet spot, that balance between cost effective risk reduction, environmental protection, and stewardship and social equity. All 3 of those things need to be taken into account in considering any option or solution going forward” — Dr. Charles Lester, Researcher, Ocean & Coastal Policy Center, Marine Science Institute, UC Santa Barbara

“Resilience to me is not a one department issue, it really requires coordination across the range of program areas that touch the coast, from transportation to housing to emergency to management to public health to natural resources to education and beyond.” — Jessica Fain (Director of Planning, San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission)

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