Delaware gets help for rising tides
This week marked six months since Hurricane Sandy made landfall, wreaking havoc throughout the Mid-Atlantic. In Delaware, efforts are still under way to restore our beaches, repair damaged roads and reinforce bridges weakened by the rising water. And, even as our 381 miles of shoreline make their way back to pre-Hurricane Sandy conditions, state officials are looking to a future where similar disasters and higher tides could cause even more damage.
Delaware earns the title of having the lowest mean elevation of any state in the nation. Along with the beautiful beaches, wetlands and coastal sand dunes, our proximity to sea level also brings trouble. Since 1969, our shoreline has visibly retreated on an annual basis. With stronger and more frequent storms expected as a result of climate change, Delaware will experience quicker erosion and more destructive flooding.
In fact, three feet of sea-level rise would impact more than 15,000 homes statewide. And it’s not only homes that will be damaged - rising tides could contaminate our drinking water, hurt tourism and industry, and harm vulnerable wildlife habitats.
Thankfully, Delaware is taking major steps to help us better respond to our changing climate and coastal landscape. The state formed a Sea Level Rise Advisory Committee, convening state agencies, municipal and county governments, and business and citizen groups, to figure out an adaptation plan. Delaware’s General Assembly recently passed House Concurrent Resolution 17 declaring Sept. 14-22 as Sea-Level Rise Awareness Week.
But Delaware cannot fully address these impacts on its own. With federal agencies closely monitoring sea-level rise projections, and our neighboring states crafting their own adaptation plans it’s smarter and more efficient for us to collaborate.
The newly-formed National Ocean Policy serves exactly this purpose. Created nearly three years ago under the Obama Administration, the National Ocean Policy is the first national effort to coordinate all the federal agencies that manage activity in our oceans. Joined under the National Ocean Council, these agencies are working closely with states and tribes to address some of the most pressing threats to our long-term ocean health.
In April, the council released its final implementation plan, outlining a to-do list of tasks the federal government will undertake in the near future to boost the health of our ocean resources, and the jobs and livelihoods that depend on them. Many of these are critical to Delaware, including removing trash and marine debris from our beaches, studying the effects of ocean acidification on our marine life, and finally, helping our residents respond to rising sea levels.
With the help of the National Ocean Policy, Delaware agencies will have new tools at their disposal to make critical decisions about sea-level rise mitigation and response. Our state government will be better equipped to guide waterfront property owners on responsible ways to manage shoreline erosion.
As we rebuild from Sandy, preparing for the future is critical. Thanks to the National Ocean Policy, Delaware won’t have to act alone as it prepares for flooding, storms, and sea-level rise. Along with our neighbors and federal agencies, we can together develop a smart, practical, and cost-effective plan to safeguard lucrative real estate and precious habitat from rising tides.
environmental advocate, Delaware Nature Society
member, Delaware Sea Level Advisory Committee