Reducing Our Risk

Organization: 
Restore America's Estuaries

Entry Overview

Dedicated to the protection and restoration of bays and estuaries as essential resources for our nation, Restore America’s Estuaries (RAE) is a national 501(c)3 nonprofit organization headquartered in Arlington, Virginia. Celebrating our 20th anniversary in 2015, RAE leads an alliance of eleven community-based conservation organizations working to protect and restore the vital resources of our nation’s estuaries. RAE works through these members and local community volunteers to perform on-the-ground conservation and restoration work at the local level, while also working nationally to build support for protection of coastal lands and waters, and raise awareness of the threats they face. Among our top strategic priorities is to increase the use of Living Shorelines, a set of shoreline protection options that increase flood storage capacity, and protect against erosion and storm damage through the strategic placement and site-specific combination of plants, stone, and/or sand fill. By encouraging and facilitating the broader use of Living Shorelines, RAE will better prepare our nation’s coastal communities to be more resilient against the impacts of the increased flooding, erosion, and storm surge that will result from rising sea levels and intensifying storms.

General Info
Jeff
Benoit
Email : 
jbenoit@estuaries.org
Organization Address: 
2300 Clarendon Blvd., Ste. 603
Arlington, Virginia 22032
United States
Problem
Population Impacted: 
More than 123 Million
Hazard: 
Flooding
Identify the likelihood and frequency of this hazard : 
Significant damage occurring to our nation’s coastal areas in the coming years from flooding, storm surge, and erosion is a certainty. Instances ranging from minor storm events to major disasters such as Sandy, Katrina, Blizzard 2015, etc. are increasing in intensity and severity. As a result of rising sea levels and increasing storm intensity, coastal flooding will become more frequent, will affect more areas, and will have even greater impacts.
Explain how vulnerable the community is to this hazard: 
Due to their low-lying nature, coastal communities are highly vulnerable to flooding, storm surge, and erosion, as unfortunately demonstrated by multiple storm events of recent years. Groups that are particularly vulnerable include homeowners and local businesses, as well as underserved populations, who lack the financial resources to prepare for, evacuate from, or respond to such disasters. Frighteningly, rising sea levels and increasing storm intensity make these areas more vulnerable every year.
List the potential affects of this hazard: 
Potential effects include risk to life, and devastating damage to public infrastructure, and private property including homes, boats, etc. The disastrous effects of flooding, erosion, and storm surge can be seen in the economic, environmental, social, and human losses of recent events. Superstorm Sandy, for instance, resulted in over 100 deaths and an estimated loss to the nation’s economy approaching $50 billion, while the economic impact of Hurricane Katrina is estimated at $108 billion.
Identify how sensitive the community is to these affects: 
Coastal communities are increasingly recognizing the need to act to prevent impacts of flooding, storm surge, and coastal erosion. However, while many realize they need to do something, they don’t know what to do or where to find information. Often they turn to overdesigned structures, like seawalls and bulkheads, which actually exacerbate erosion and artificially induce increased flooding. We believe homeowners and communities would eagerly implement simple, cost-effective, ecosystem-compatible solutions if they were better informed.
Action
Preparedness Goal: 
RAE is advancing use of “Living Shorelines” to protect shorelines from erosion, flooding, and storm surge while preserving ecological systems.
Implementing Actions: 

“Living Shorelines” is a term used to define a suite of shoreline protection options that increase flood storage capacity, and protect against erosion and storm damage through the strategic placement and site-specific combination of plants, stone, and sand fill. Living Shorelines at the same time enhance habitat for fish and wildlife. Living Shorelines can provide a viable alternative to traditional “hard” structures such as bulkheads, which exacerbate erosion in front of and adjacent to their location. Increased erosion makes landward property more at risk to flooding and damage. RAE seeks to advance the use of Living Shorelines by private property owners as well as public coastal entities across the nation by: promoting Living Shorelines’ advantages over hard structures; educating property owners, contractors, practitioners, and other stakeholders on many economic, environmental, social, and disaster-protection benefits of Living Shorelines; and creating a community of practice to encourage the dissemination and exchange of information on Living Shorelines. The above actions will significantly increase the number of Living Shorelines installed by private property owners and public entities in coastal communities across the country. This will result in less shoreline erosion and lead to increased protection against flooding of coastal property as sea level continues to rise and storm intensity continues to increase.

Solution
Describe Your Solution: 

It is essential that coastal landowners and communities begin planning smarter to prepare for the consequences of climate change and sea-level rise. Shorelines have been historically managed to control erosion and reduce coastal flooding by building “hard” structures like seawalls and bulkheads. Such hard structures actually cause more erosion, create a false sense of security, and increase flooding and risk to lives and property when they fail. Continuing to place walls around our shorelines, particularly in coastal bays, will end up drowning coastal habitat critical for fisheries production and resulting in a “bathtub effect” where water will simply slosh back and forth. Science now shows that a better approach is to use Living Shorelines to manage shorelines, protecting them from erosion while allowing them to maintain their ecological functions. Additionally, Living Shorelines better complement shoreline dynamics and can absorb storm surge and retain flood waters, thereby increasing shoreline resilience against weather-related disasters in coastal areas. Further, unlike hard structures, Living Shorelines can adapt to changing environmental conditions, allowing them to potentially keep pace with rising sea level and offer longer-term protection from erosion, flooding, and storm surge than is possible with hard structures. As sea level continues to rise and storm intensity continues to increase, strategically managing shorelines to be more resilient becomes increasingly important to for the survival of coastal communities. RAE seeks to advance the national use of Living Shorelines by both public and private property owners. RAE’s efforts to educate key audiences on the benefits of Living Shorelines, to encourage the exchange of information on Living Shorelines among practitioners and decision makers, and to facilitate the installation of Living Shorelines will therefore lead directly to America’s coastal communities being better prepared for future weather-related coastal disasters.

Results
Economic?: 

The economic benefits of installing a living Shoreline instead of a hard structure come in the form of increased and longer-lasting protection of coastal communities from the devastating impact of flooding, storm surge, and erosion. Living Shorelines can also increase property values, and the habitat they provide for fish and wildlife can result in increased revenue for fishing, tourism, and recreation industries and the local businesses they support.

Environmental?: 

In addition to reducing communities’ risk to the effects of weather-related hazards, Living Shorelines also provide other environmental benefits. While “hard” structures such as bulkheads or seawalls separate the land from the water, Living Shorelines maintain the connection between land and water ecosystems. This allows Living Shorelines to provide vital habitat for fish and wildlife. Additionally, because Living Shorelines can absorb and filter surface runoff, they improve water quality for the benefit of the people and fish that rely on this water.

Social?: 

Living Shorelines can offer a number of social benefits for property owners and communities that install them. These include: improved aesthetics, better opportunities and access for recreational fishing, boating, and wildlife viewing, and new opportunities for outdoor/nature education. Further, Living Shorelines can filter out polluted runoff and improve water quality that results in human health benefits.

What were the negative or unintended impacts (if any) associated with implementing this solution? : 

In some cases, implementation of a Living Shoreline requires trading one ecological resource function for another. For example, mud flats are common coastal features that offer certain ecological benefits, including seasonal feeding areas for migrating wildlife. In some instances, implementing a Living Shoreline may require planting salt marsh, highly productive for fish habitat and wildlife, on the mud flat, modifying one set of ecological benefits for another. These decisions are weighed when considering and designing Living Shorelines.

Replication/Scale
Return on Investment: How much did it cost to implement these activities? How do your results above compare to this investment?: 

The cost to implement a Living Shoreline or install a bulkhead can vary significantly from site to site, but in any location the costs of installing a Living Shoreline vs. a bulkhead are generally comparable. A report by the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary estimates that cost of materials to install a bulkhead can range from $500 - $1500 per linear foot, whereas with a Living Shoreline, the cost, depending on Living Shoreline type, range from $100 - $1000 per linear foot. Because installation of a Living Shoreline can be done for a comparable cost to a bulkhead installation, they provide a strong return on investment by offering all of the economic, environmental, social, and disaster-protection benefits detailed above for a price that may be equal to or even less than the alternative option of a hard structure.

What are the main factors needed to successfully replicate this solution elsewhere?: 

The ability and capacity for many private and public entities to begin implementing Living Shorelines on their property is already in place. Therefore, to broadly replicate the results that have already been achieved nationwide through the use of Living Shorelines, what is needed are education and policy change. Education of private property owners, practitioners, public officials, and other stakeholders as to the benefits of Living Shorelines will encourage their adoption; reform of federal policies that can make installation of Living Shorelines more difficult or time-consuming than bulkheads will further encourage their use.

Contest Info
Contest Name: 
Reducing Our Risk

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