As coastal flooding worsens, some cities retreat from the water

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By AR Siders, University of Delaware and Katharine Mach, Miami University

When the tide is unusually high in Charleston, South Carolina, the coastal streets begin to fill with seawater. Some backyards become ponds and residents don rain boots.

The city also receives a lot of rain. After homes in a low-lying neighborhood were flooded three times in four years, the city offered to buy 32 flood-prone townhouses and turn the land into open space that can be used to manage future ones. flood waters. It’s a strategy coastal cities from Virginia to California are considering more often as tidal flooding increases with rising sea levels.

Cities along the US coast have seen an increase in the number of flood days at high tide. In 2021, U.S. coasts are expected to experience an average of three to seven days of flooding at high tide, increasing to 25-75 days by mid-century, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warns in its annual flood outlook at high tide, published July 14. , 2021.

Charleston’s low elevation saw a record 14 days of high tide flooding in 2020, and parts of the city have even more flood days. The city is considering new dikes to protect itself from hurricanes and other measures to try to keep tides and storms from entering threatened neighborhoods. But he has also started helping residents move away from high-risk areas. This is a strategy known as managed retirement – the deliberate movement of people, buildings and other infrastructure away from very dangerous places.

Controlled withdrawal is controversial, particularly in the United States. But it’s not just about moving – it’s about adapting to change and building safer communities, meeting long-neglected needs, and incorporating new technologies and thoughtful design for living and work in today’s world.

We argue in a special issue of the journal Science that managed retirement is an opportunity to preserve the essential while rethinking high-risk areas in a better way for everyone.

Climate change could cost Virginia’s coastal cities billions of dollars, congressional experts warn

What a managed retirement can look like

General Oliver P. Smith of the United States Marine Corps said of a retreat he led during the Korean War: “Retreat! Hell! We’re just moving in a different direction. Much like General Smith’s maneuver, retreating from the dangers of climate change is all about choosing a new direction.

Controlled withdrawal could involve turning streets into canals in coastal towns. This could mean buying and demolishing flood-prone properties to create open spaces for stormwater parks that absorb heavy rains or retention ponds and pumping stations.

Managed retirement is part of a coping toolkit. (Elena Hartley)

In some cases, managed retirement may involve building denser, more affordable housing designed to stay cool, while leaving open spaces for recreation or agriculture that can also reduce heat and soak up stormwater in the event. of need.

Managing retirement well is a challenge. It affects many people – residents who move, their neighbors who stay and the communities they move to – and each can be affected differently. Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin, moved its flood-prone business district in the late 1970s and used the opportunity to heat new buildings with solar energy, earning it the nickname ” Solar village ”. The move has revitalized the local economy; yet while the project is hailed as a success, some residents still miss the old town. For managed retirement to be a viable strategy, relocation plans must not only help people move to safer ground, but also meet their needs. It can involve a wide range of social issues, including cultural practices, affordable housing, building codes, land use, jobs, transportation, and public services.

Since high-risk areas are often home to low-income communities and black, indigenous and other communities of color, addressing climate risk in these areas may also require addressing a national legacy of racism, of segregation and disinvestment that has put these communities at risk and left many little options for dealing with floods, fires and other dangers.

In its simplest form, a managed retirement can be a lifeline for families who are tired of the emotional and financial stress of rebuilding after floods or fires, but cannot afford to sell their home at a loss or don’t want to sell and put another family at risk.

Virginia coast experienced two to five times more harmful flooding in 2019 than the national average

Talking about managed retirement

Even if an individual or community decides not to opt out, thinking critically and talking openly about a managed retreat can help people understand why it is important to stay in place and what risks they are prepared to face. to stay.

Losses from moving can be obvious, including the cost, but there are also losses in staying put: physical risk of future dangers, increased emotional and financial stress, potential loss of community if some residents or businesses leave to find safer ground, the pain of seeing the environment change and the lost opportunities to improve.

If people can explain why it’s important to stay still, they can make better plans.

A storm-devastated stilt house in Nags Head sits above the water with sandbags below.
North Carolina’s Outer Bank communities are deciding how much they’re willing to pay to continue rebuilding island roads after storms in high-risk areas. (John Greim / Loop Images / Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Maybe it’s important to stay because a building is historic and people want to protect that history. It opens up creative conversations about how people have preserved historic buildings and sites at risk. And he invites others to help document this heritage and educate the community, perhaps through oral histories, video recordings, or 3D models.

Perhaps it is important that the owners stay because the land has been in the family for generations. This could start conversations with the next generation about their goals for the land, which may include preservation but may also include changes.

Perhaps a deep emotional attachment to a community or home could make a person want to stay. Conversations could be about moving nearby – to a new, safer home but still part of the community – or about physically moving the house to a safer location. It could also mean finding strategies, like life estates, that allow people to stay in their homes as long as they want, but prevent a new family from moving in and putting their children at risk.

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If staying seems important because the local economy depends on the beach, it could start a conversation about why stepping back from the beach may be the best way to save the beach and its ecosystem, preventing the walls from being washed away. narrow and maintain public access without stilt houses hovering above the tide.

Thinking carefully about which parts of our lives and communities should stay the same opens up space to think creatively about which parts should or could change.




Read more:
High tide flood risk accelerates, endangering coastal economies


This is an updated version of an article originally published on June 21, 2021.

AR Siders is an Assistant Professor in the Center for Disaster Research at the University of Delaware. Katharine Mach is Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Policy at the University of Miami. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.



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