Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment and Adaptation Planning Study for Water Quality Infrastructure in New Bedford, Fairhaven and Acushnet, Massachusetts

The Buzzards Bay National Estuary Program, through the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) and Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM), hired SeaPlan, an environmental planning firm, to conduct a climate ready estuary assessment and planning effort for the municipalities surrounding New Bedford Harbor. The purpose of this project is to develop an understanding of possible impacts of climate change and potential future responses by the Towns of Acushnet and Fairhaven, and the City of New Bedford, Massachusetts, with specific attention on sea level rise (SLR), precipitation, and frequency or intensity of storms that may affect public infrastructure related to water quality and habitat protection.

This work is part of a national effort by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to encourage municipalities to enact long-term strategies to adapt to anticipated climate change impacts.

The harbor, which is shared by the City of New Bedford and the Towns of Acushnet and Fairhaven, is of interest because it is protected by a hurricane barrier that was constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the early 1960s. The barrier and dikes protect a heavily urbanized and industrial area, an environmental justice community, a nationally important fishing fleet, and a center for the seafood processing industry. About 50% of the Buzzards Bay watershed population lives in these three communities, which are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of SLR, especially in the event of a hurricane barrier failure in a storm.

For this assessment, the SeaPlan led team modeled hypothetical worst case inundation scenarios using a combination of hurricane parameters and SLR scenarios, and used the model results to conduct a vulnerability analysis of water quality infrastructure, public property and populations, along with estimations of economic and structural damages from storms. Recommendations were formulated for adapting water quality infrastructure to prepare for storm events.

The results of the vulnerability analysis showed that a Category 3 storm with 4-foot SLR, maximum inundation depths in the area would reach 32 feet. Damage quantification analyses estimated $3.5 billion in projected overall economic damages to buildings, and substantial damage to 1,399 buildings.

A water quality infrastructure adaptation project adaptation matrix is developed in the report to help municipalities to prioritize projects which will protect critical water quality infrastructure from storm-related damages.

The report’s recommendations include adding on-site generators, checking for buoyancy, and flood-proofing doors, electrical systems and air intakes at vulnerable structures.


The Buzzards Bay National Estuary Program updated their 1991 Buzzards Bay Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) in 2012 to begin to implement strategies to reduce the severity of impacts of future storms and sea level rise on the coast and on existing and future coastal development.


Publication Date: June 30, 2014

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