Stephanie Herron reports on "Out of Harms Way" sea level rise forum on August 1, 2012
By Stephanie Herron, Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator
On Thursday, August 1st I attended an excellent forum put on by Sari Rothrock and The Partnership for the Delaware Estuary. In addition to being educational, I found the program to be uniquely inspiring and at times even a little frightening, as it focused on the very real effects of Sea Level Rise (SLR) on the region’s estuaries. There were participants from the private sector, government and environmental groups in addition to students and other individuals representing Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Section 1 of the program, titled “Planning for Resilience”, kicked off with a speech from DNREC Secretary Colin O’Mara who pointed out that all Delawareans need to start thinking of themselves as coastal residents as no one lives more than 8 miles from tidal waters. The Mid-Atlantic region is and will continue to be especially vulnerable to SLR.
The next speaker, Susan Love head of the Delaware Sea Level Rise Advisory Committee, gave some especially interesting/alarming statistics, many of which are found in the DE Vulnerability Assessment . She said that Delaware could be facing as much as 8-11% total land area inundated by SLR by the year 2100. This area’s tax assessed value is estimated as $1.5 billion and could include 97-99% of our tidal wetlands. Visit de.gov/slrmap to see the potential impacts of SLR rise on your home.
Lance Butler of the Philadelphia Water Department’s office of Watersheds spoke of current storm events taxing infrastructure. You can find more information about his group and their “Green Cities, Clean Water” Plan here. Dorina Frezzera, an experienced environmental scientist with NJDEP Coastal Management Office, spoke of New Jersey’s very compact development along the coast and her two coastal programs: “A Coastal Community Vulnerability Index” and “Getting to Resilience”. More on her programs and all of the event presentations will be available soon here.
Section 2 “Taking Adaption Action” was my favorite part of the forum. Dr. David Bushek, Director of the Haskin Shellfish Research Laboratory, talked about Living Shorelines using shellfish and “biologs” made of coconut hush as natural erosion control and flood protection. More information on this fascinating approach to adaptation, including a video of Dr. Bushek can be found here, at the Partnership’s website.
Andrew Kricun, Director and Chief Engineer of the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority, shocked me with the information that residents of Camden, NJ are facing a massive environmental and public health crisis right now. He told us that some communities in that area are experiencing sewage leaking into basements, parks and out on the streets from localized flooding caused by even 1 inch rain events! Six agencies, including his, have founded the 4-pronged SMART initiative to mitigate this problem caused by combined sanitation and storm lines. Some key successes include 28 rain gardens (by the end of Summer ‘12) and storm water plan development. More on this can be found here.
Dr. Danielle Kreeger, Science Director of the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary discussed “Enhancing and Harnessing Nature for Climate Resilience”. Though 95% have been lost (since “ settlement”) Delaware still has more Tidal Wetlands-which she says function as “the kidneys” for water quality-than any other state and our fresh water wetlands are internationally rare. Unfortunately the future of these treasures is very uncertain. Due to SLR and exacerbated by dredging there is a sediment imbalance that is causing marshes to retreat and disappear. Dr. Kreeger explains that marshes will need to either “move horizontally or vertically”. She suggests a combination approach to wetlands protection, including “beneficial use” strategies, building up key wetlands with dredged sediment that would otherwise be disposed of. With SLR currently at about 4mm/year, Kreeger says wetlands will not be able to keep up with a rate of 10mm/year -a figure well within the projected range. Be sure to look out for the “State of the Estuaries” Report, set to come out in the next few weeks. I believe it will be posted here.
Some key take away points were discussed among small groups and then recapped by EPA Region III Administrator, Shawn Garvin and Dr. Kreeger. A few points raised here were preparing for how Climate Change will affect our natural resources (drinking water for example) and prioritizing tactics. We must “shift the paradigm” from restoration to adaptation because as Dr. Kreeger pointed out temperatures have already risen .8 degrees and will rise another .8 by 2025. Even if we were to stop all emissions today we are locked into to this rate for the 30 years due to what she calls “climate momentum”. With SLR between .6-1.5m by 2100 we must, as Administrator Garvin puts it “pass the puck not to where the player is, but where the player will be”.
More information on the “Out of Harm’s Way” Forum, including copies of the slideshow presentations will be found at: http://www.delawareestuary.org/activities_community_climate_my_community_out_of_harms_way.asp.
-Stephanie Herron is the Delaware Chapter's volunteer and outreach coordinator.