Policy Trumps Climate Change When It Comes to Coastal Development Risk, Researchers Say

Coastal communities face increasing danger from rising water and storms, but the level of risk will be more closely tied to policy decisions regarding development than the varying conditions associated with climate change, new research by Oregon State University suggests.

The findings, published in the journal Water, provide an important framework for managing the interactions between human-made and natural systems in cities and towns along shorelines as the Earth continues to warm, the researchers said.

Using data from Tillamook County along the northern Oregon coast, the researchers plugged into Envision information on landscape characteristics, population growth, development, water level, coastal change models, policy narratives, and climate change scenarios.

In a set of analyses involving many variables, the most important takeaway is the power of policy measures to positively or negatively affect a coastal community’s climate risk level. Those measures include the construction of protective structures between the beach face and the shoreline; adding sediment to beaches where access in front of those structures has been lost; removing or relocating buildings repeatedly affected by coastal hazards and turning hazard zones into conservation areas; constructing new buildings well above the base flood elevation established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency; and preventing new development in hazard zones even if those areas are within urban/community growth boundaries.

Source: Oregon State University

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