Battle at our Shores: Impacts of Coastal Flooding
What is now happening in the U.S. foreshadows a daunting future in the next century. Thousands, if not possibly millions, of residents will be at risk of displacement, barely escaping their flooded homes that have submerged into the towering sea. Destruction of businesses and homes will become detrimental to communities and could affect local and national economies. To lessen this potential catastrophe, we must rethink how our impact today greatly affects the forces of nature.
The Measure of Our Economic Success
Any civilization’s success depends greatly on its access to coastal regions and large bodies of water. The Ancient Egyptians flourished into a marvelous civilization on the banks of the Nile River Delta, a triangular area where the many arms of the Nile dumped into the sea in Northeast Africa.
There are countless reasons why this truth remains relevant even during times of technological advancement that the Egyptians could only dream of. Along the coast, typically in ports, imported and exported goods are exchanged between nations. The biggest ports in the U.S. in New York and California both account for 14 million TEUs of cargo in 2013. One TEU is the carrying capacity of a 20-foot-by-8-foot shipping container. A large portion of our ocean economy depends on offshore and open ocean harvesting of wild fish and shellfish. According to the NOEP, ocean economy accounts for 2.6 million jobs and approximately 4.4 percent of the total GDP in America. Two other important portions of the coastal economy include tourism, recreation and mineral extractions, such as oil and natural gas drilling, that also powerfully influence business and jobs.
It’s no surprise some of the highest populated cities lie on the coast and are continuously growing. South Carolina has three of the fastest growing cities in the nation and together they have added 155,564 more residents since 2010. Out of those three cities, Charleston accounts for more than half of that number.
Despite having economic benefits for real estate and business, accelerated population growth can challenge a city’s infrastructure as it becomes hard to keep pace. A challenged infrastructure doesn’t have what it takes to offset flooding and residents may rethink their current situation.
The Study that was Heard Around the World
A recently published story stated that about 13.1 million people in the coastal region of the U.S. will be at risk of flooding by the year 2100 if sea level rises six feet in the next century.
Ice caps are melting at an alarming rate in the North and South Pole due to steadily rising global temperatures. Recently, a video surfaced capturing a chunk of ice the size of Manhattan breaking off Antarctica and plunging into the sea.
The magnitude of this event happens regularly but it’s rarely seen in person, let alone caught on film. Being able to watch these events helps people visualize the rate the ice caps are melting and that it is steadfast increasing. At this rate, we can see first-hand the consequences of climate change.
‘Sunny-day Flooding’ isn’t All Rainbows
Around the eastern and southern coasts of the U.S., countless thousands are experiencing “sunny-day flooding”, or tidal flooding, which occurs without a storm present. These tidal surges typically equate one to two feet of stormwater but cause major disruption of main roads and bridges, inundate basements and homes, damages property, and poison wells and groundwater with salt.
One of the fastest growing cities, Charleston, is not guarded against these oncoming ocean surges. In 2015, Charleston experienced such intense tidal flooding; it was compared to the catastrophic flooding from a “1,000-year” storm that hit earlier in the month of October. The only difference between the two was the presence of an actual hurricane and just extreme tidal fluctuations in sea-level.
Off the coast of Georgia, the only access road to the Tybee Island is slowly disappearing into the ocean. During different times of the year, the road is completely inundated or partially flooded and markers have been placed on the sides of the road for drivers to make an informed decision if the road is worth driving through.
In Wilmington, N.C., an area where major flooding isn’t common, the amount of minor flooding has tripled since the 1990s from 9 to 26 incidents per year. It is predicted that by 2045, sea level will rise 12 inches for Wilmington and the nuisance of flooding events will be a near every day occurrence.
In Miami-Dade County, Fla., these events are requiring the city to spend millions combating the rising tide and forced to send vacuum trucks to clear the roads of saltwater. Even if a tidal flooding event is minimal, the movement of one to two feet of water further inland can contaminate sources of groundwater with salt and put at risk the supply of drinkable water. Local taxes and fees have increased to finance a $400 million plan to improve infrastructure due to citizens pressuring local government to make a move.
Bracing for the Storms Ahead
Despite causing property damage and disruption, minor flooding alone isn’t a catastrophe but it can be a huge weakness for the coast when heavy storms and natural disasters have the potential of occurring so frequently and with such intensity. Louisiana is another city threatened by coastal flooding and sinking, or subsiding land. Recently, a rare phenomenon occurred when a 100-year storm simply stopped moving directly over the city, dumping 2 feet of rain in a 72-hour span. Thousands of homes were flooded and president Barack Obama declared it a natural disaster.
“Sunny-day flooding” alone isn’t deadly but when lands are sinking and sea levels are rising, phenomenon such as the recent flooding in Louisiana will be more frequent and disastrous.
The Money Pit of all Money Pits
Most cities that have suffered a national disaster get funding from both the federal government and flood insurance companies to rebuild. Disaster-relief and temporary solutions have created a money hole where funding is dumped into efforts to rebuild in the same area that is at high-risk of another natural disaster.
Each natural disaster can be estimated to cost about $1 billion in funds spent on disaster relief. In the 1980s, an average of two natural disasters occurred each year in the U.S. and has since increased to 10 disasters per year. Climate patterns are heavily shifting, such as heat waves, heavy rain and drought, and are exasperating natural disasters causing them to occur more often. With a growing population, the effects of climate change in weather and sea level, and people still living or moving to high-risk cities, natural disaster funding will only increase exponentially.
When rebuilding, a great deal needs to be taken into consideration: how can we improve the city to better combat future disasters, are these methods efficient and long-lasting, and how much will it cost to be maintained regularly.
Much of the new construction is built to withstand a 100-year or 500-year storm, which has a rare chance of happening, but when these oddities are becoming more frequent and our coasts are disappearing under water, these new constructions become ineffectual.
National Defense at Risk of Sea Level Invasion
Our national defense stands at risk of defeat from flooding. U.S. Naval Station Norfolk, the world’s largest naval base, has asked for the federal government to not just build floodgates to protect coastal bases but to also create extensive climate change tactics to battle the rising waters in the long-run.
Unfortunately, the Pentagon’s efforts to guard one of the nation’s major defenses have been met with resistance from Congress. Around the world, tidal floods are invading land despite coastal flooding being a national issue, the phenomenon is occurring in many parts of the world that have become detrimental.
Inupiat Eskimo villages in Shishmaref, Alaska have been at risk for decades of completely losing their homes as water creeps inland, slowly destroying their land. Now, the city is expected to be submerged in the next three decades. Faced with the inevitable, the Inupiat voted and made the difficult decision to relocate. They are not alone. The Inupiat is one of at least 31 Alaska Native villages that are currently at risk are facing the same difficult decision.
Out in the Pacific Ocean, north of Australia, the Marshall Islands house 72, 191 people are at risk of becoming “climate change refugees”. Due to the restricted amount of available land on these islands, moving inland away from tidal flooding is not a choice for them. The accelerated rise in sea level threatens to destroy homes and contaminate their drinkable water, which could leave them stranded, at risk of dehydration and with nowhere to go.
We Must Weigh Our Options
Apart from the considerations around construction, most importantly is the need for residents to be proactive in helping combat flooding by fully understanding that funding is needed for construction costs and maintenance.
Twice now the residents of New Orleans have voted against raising taxes to help fund the maintenance costs of their new flood gate, built after Hurricane Katrina devastated the region. Without proper funding, this billion-dollar construction won’t be effective and save 900,000 people from another disaster such as Katrina. The city remains in high-risk of another natural disaster
The rise of natural disaster occurrences is proven to be costly and efforts to strategically spend millions in the battle against rising sea levels is critical. bInstead of working against the forces of nature, we should embrace and work along those forces.
We instead should create natural solutions.
1. Embracing the Flow of Water
Our traditional methods of reducing flooding risk involve the use of impermeable infrastructures to completely stop or guide the flow of water into controlled structures. Floodplain restoration projects introduce a different approach to controlled flooding. Instead of setting up dams and detention areas to hold back the flow of water with impermeable material, this method encourages restoring water’s natural tendency of flowing into floodplains. Allowing this flow to occur restores wetlands and habitats in the floodplain and whenever there is flooding, the flow goes to an area that benefits from the influx of water.
2. Shape Legislation to Advocate for Natural Solutions
For these methods to find their way into society, federal, state, and local legislation needs to shift to promote natural solutions versus traditional solutions, such as impervious infrastructure. An incentive for legislation to use these natural solutions is the low cost that makes it more affordable for communities and have a better impact on the environment, which in turn creates better investments. Legislation needs to shape an integrated approach of solving the issue at a larger scale to invest into long lasting solutions.
3. Adding natural solutions to the list of low-risk solutions incentivizes people to adopt these alternatives to save money in the long run. Creating an area that better withstands flooding with permeable pavements or a nearby floodplain to offset the flow of water.