Sea Level Rise Flooding Forces Cities and Real Estate Owners to Struggle with Resiliency or Retreat

“Resiliency or retreat? That’s the question many coastal cities and real estate owners are struggling with as climate change causes global sea levels to rise and flood their communities and properties.

An article published today in the Washington Post takes a detailed look at the tough choices cities and owners have to make when floodwaters show up on their streets and property. Government officials in many coastal areas are working hard to provide homeowners with solutions that are effective in their particular situation.

In some areas the flooding is so bad and it’s so expensive to maintain essential services — such as roads, and stormwater and sewer systems — that governments see retreat as the only solution. They’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase private properties and then knocking them down.

In other areas, the flooding hasn’t reached that critical point — though it will one day — so governments are subsidizing homeowner efforts to elevate their properties and they’re upgrading critical infrastructure. The only problem with this approach is that one day the streets will still flood, limiting the owners’ ability to reach their properties.

Implementing resiliency and retreat programs isn’t seamless. Often, government officials encounter owners who are not ready to alter or abandon their properties. This can lead to legal and political problems. Another issue is the shear cost of dealing with sea level rise. The Post article cites a Center for Climate Integrity report that estimated that $42 billion dollars will be needed by 2040 to build seawalls to protect U.S. cities with more than 25,000 residents. Add communities of less than 25,000 residents and the estimated cost balloons to $400 billion.

The federal government won’t necessarily be able to come to the rescue either. For example, right now the Army Corps of Engineers has nearly $100 billion in approved construction projects, but Congress has only approved $2 billion to fund them.

The math involved in changing the direction of heavily settled coastal areas is daunting. According to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report, 126 million people live in coastal communities that produce $8.3 trillion in goods and services. Coming up with cost-effective solutions to deal with sea level rise flooding in such a densely populated and enormous geographical area seems nearly impossible.

The Post article also examines the challenges confronted by real estate buyers in coastal areas. In 21 states it’s very difficult for buyers to tell if they’re moving into a flood zone. A.R Siders, a researcher with the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware, told the Post: “I can go on Carfax and find out about the car I’m going to buy, but if I’m going to take out a 30-year mortgage and tie up myself financially, in some states I can’t find out if the house has been damaged. Home buyers are being tricked into buying properties they would not otherwise buy.”

The Post article gives an example of a buyer who works in commercial real estate who was assured that the waterfront property he wanted to purchase would be a minor inconvenience. When the sellers transferred their federal flood insurance policy to him, he found out insurers had paid flood damage claims in 2003, 2009 and 2011. Transparency isn’t assured in every real estate transaction in part because a federal privacy law passed in the 1970s forbids insurers from disclosing a property’s flood history without the seller’s approval.

After reading the Post article, it becomes clear yet again that real estate buyers, sellers, owners and agents in coastal areas need to stay current on the latest information regarding sea level rise flooding in their communities to protect their financial futures. The Washington Post article by writer Jim Morrison is a must-read for everyone involved in coastal real estate.

Sea Level Rise Scientists Plan to Retreat from Vulnerable Research Facility in New Jersey

Sea level rise flooding isn’t just a problem for coastal governments or real estate owners, it’s also a challenge for research scientists.

According to a NJSPOTLIGHT report, researchers at the Rutgers University Marine Field Station, located in the middle of a marsh near Tuckerton, New Jersey, are seeking a federal grant to enable them to work inland. The researchers are eager to move because sea level rise-driven flooding frequently inundates the only access road and puts the facility itself at risk.

Lisa Auermuller, who works at the field station, told NJSPOTLIGHT reporter Jon Hurdle that retreat is the right thing to do considering that their mission is to study the impact of rising seas on coastal communities. “How long can you keep telling people that they need to pay attention to this when we’re not paying attention to it ourselves?” she asked. “We need to be leading by example.”

California Town Embraces Retreat to Address Sea Level Rise Threat

“Resiliency” and “retreat” are two popular buzzwords regarding sea level rise and real estate. Resiliency is making the changes necessary to prevent sea level rise flooding as long as possible so people can continue to live near the coast. Retreat is recognizing that either the cost is too high or it’s impossible to engineer your way out of the flooding, so everyone has to move back away from the coastline.

Currently, resiliency is the solution most coastal cities and towns are using to address sea level rise. Governments and property owners are spending billions of dollars to elevate property and critical infrastructure, such as pipes and roads. They’re also building and/or raising sea walls and installing pumps.

Retreat is far less popular. From the Florida Keys to the Pacific Coast, property owners are fighting plans that would force them to move away from coastal areas that are subject to sea level rise-driven flooding or at great risk of flooding in the near future.

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, Marina, California, a small town with 23,000 residents north of Monterey, is actively embracing retreat as a solution to its sea level rise woes. The town is considering plans that have proven unpopular in most coastal locations, including requiring sellers to disclose sea level rise information to buyers, moving infrastructure away from at-risk areas, and discussing relocation with the operators of a private beach resort.

To ensure that the town doesn’t have to make the same difficult decisions over-developed towns are being forced to make regarding resiliency or retreat, Marina officials are actively steering real estate developers toward inland locations away from the eroding shoreline.

David Revell, a coastal scientist and sea level rise consultant, told the Times, “Marina is such a good test case. Here we have the precedent of a community that understands that … there has to be enough lead time to get things out of the way — before it’s in the way.” Revell added that Marina’s pro-active approach “is a really powerful message to the rest of California.”

Residents seem to generally approve of the town’s approach to dealing with sea level rise. The town’s draft plan is almost finished.

Real estate buyers in coastal areas need to consider whether a city or town intends to rely on resiliency or retreat to address sea level rise flooding. Resiliency can lead to higher taxes and the possibility that a property of interest will be impacted by the construction of sea walls, pump stations and other infrastructure. Retreat could limit the amount of time a property can be owned and enjoyed. Both approaches could also impact property value.

Sea Level Rise Flooding Could Force 13 Million People to Move Inland by 2100

Resiliency and retreat are the mantras for coastal communities coping with sea level rise flooding. Resiliency is improving infrastructure to allow people to remain in coastal areas. Among the options are raising sea walls, roads and other critical infrastructure and installing pumps to move floodwaters off valuable real estate. Retreat is moving people away from areas that flood when it’s too expensive or impossible to defend the land.

Researchers at the University of Southern California’s School of Engineering used artificial intelligence to predict where coastal residents are likely to migrate when sea level rise forces them inland. Their report might surprise you.

The study, led by USC Computer Science Assistant Professor Bustra Dilkina found that sea level rise flooding could force 13 million people in the US alone to move inland by 2100. The inland cities that take them will face increased competition for jobs, higher housing prices and greater demands on essential public services, including roads, schools, law enforcement and water and sewer services.

“Sea level rise will affect every county in the US, including inland areas,” Professor Dilkina fold USC Viterbi. “We hope this research will empower urban planners and local decision-makers to prepare to accept populations displaced by sea level rise. Our findings indicate that everybody should care about sea level rise, whether they live on the coast or not. This is a global impact issue.”

The study identified which cities and regions are likely to fact the largest influx of sea level rise refugees. The list includes Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Denver and Las Vegas. Smaller midwest cities could also face a spike in population from people moving away from the coasts.

Orange County, California, Grappling with Sea Level Rise

This weekend, the alignment of the sun and moon are creating higher-than normal-king tides along the U.S. coastline. Activists and organizations in Orange County, California, are hosting events at several locations (listed in this article) to not only show the public what a king tide does to their shoreline but to make them aware that sea level rise is going to make what’s now considered a higher-than-normal tide the norm in the coming decades.

Sea level rise flooding is already threatening beaches, bluffs, railroad tracks, roadways, and real estate in California. The state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates in a December report that statewide up to $10 billion worth will be inundated by 2050.

The California Coastal Commission is considering a few options to hold back or divert the rising seas, including building seawalls (which can actually cause more rapid beach erosion), enhancing natural buffers, such as dunes and wetlands, and moving or demolishing structures on beaches so the ocean and beaches can follow their natural flow without flooding real estate and infrastructure. All of the solutions under consideration have costs and benefits. In some cases, residents are fighting the changes, claiming that their private property rights overrule the public interest.

The U.S. Geologic Survey predicts that sea level rise could devour up 67 percent of California’s beaches by 2100. The loss threatens to damage the state’s tourist economy and put even more bluff-top homes at risk of toppling into the sea.

Sean Bothwell, executive director of the California Coastkeeper Alliance told the Orange County Register, “Sea level projections have increased at an alarming rate — due to increased ocean temperature and faster rates of Antarctic sea melt — leaving California’s communities, roads and other infrastructure vulnerable to severe flooding and other risks without immediate action.”

Hopefully, public education projects, like the special king tide events being held in Orange County, will convince people that now’s the time to act.

Sea Level Rise Picks Up Pace in South Florida and the Keys

The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact is warning member governments from Palm Beach County to the Keys to start planning for 17 inches to 31 inches of sea level rise in the next four decades. The group released data at its annual meeting in Key West last month that increased sea level rise projections an additional 3 to 5 inches over previous forecasts.

Chronic sea level rise flooding already has Keys officials considering instituting a managed retreat, where the government buys out real estate and abandons roads. Many coastal governments are considering retreat as an option, especially in areas where maintaining infrastructure is considered too expensive for the number of residents served. The challenge if finding the money to purchase the distressed real estate and convincing owners who don’t want to sell. Read more in this Bloomberg Environment article.

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