Assessing the Legal Toolbox for Sea Level Rise Adaptation in Delaware: Options and Challenges for Regulators, Policymakers, Property Owners, and the Public

From the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic at Widener Law, this report reviews the legal tools available for sea level rise adaptation in the State of Delaware, and analyzes the legal issues related to the use of each tool. The report also discusses the current status of the tools under Delaware law, and provides recommendations for changes needed in Delaware law to make them more effective.

The legal tools thoroughly analyzed in this report include:

  • Zoning 
  • Acquisition and Buybacks
  • Building Restrictions and Prohibitions
  • Setbacks and Buffers
  • Conservation Easements Rolling Easements Transferable Development Credits
  • Real Estate Disclosures

General strategies for adapting to sea level rise are discussed also, falling into four categories including: Laissez–Faire/No Action Strategy, Shore Protection/Fight the Sea, Accommodation/Work With the Sea, and Retreat.

In analyzing the legal tools that could be used to adapt to sea level rise, the report focuses on resources that are most appropriate for the implementation of the Accommodation and Retreat strategies. (A “No Action” strategy does not require any legal tools; a Shore Protection strategy relies primarily on the decision to armor or elevate.)

According to the Delaware Sea Level Rise Advisory Committee, up to 11 percent of Delaware’s land mass could be underwater by the year 2100 due to sea-level rise, and 81 to 99 percent of all coastal wetlands could be inundated. 

“Assessing the Legal Toolbox” was funded by a grant from the Coastal Programs Office of Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, from funding made available by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In addition to the generation and distribution of the report, the grant allows the Law Clinic to conduct public workshops on the topic.


Publication Date: May 21, 2014

Authors or Affiliated Users:

  • Kenneth T. Kristl
  • Harry Cook
  • Rebecca Drowos
  • William Eppler
  • Joshua Grajewski
  • Kari Hassett
  • Jay Patel
  • Adam Wojewodzki
  • Justin Forcier

Related Organizations:


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Legal Analysis
  • Tool (general)

States Affected:


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