Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas — New York City, New York: Land Acquisition and Flood Buyout Programs

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYC DEP) offers flood mitigation buyouts within the NYC watershed, in cooperation with the state, through a Flood Buyout Program that can serve as a model for other coastal and riverine jurisdictions considering retreat. These buyouts are part of a comprehensive flood hazard mitigation program that relies on scientific studies termed Local Flood Analyses (LFA). LFA enable NYC DEP to identify solutions to reduce flooding that may involve buyouts, and then to fund and implement recommended projects. NYC DEP’s buyouts are primarily funded by local sewer and water bills and may be supplemented by grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. NYC’s work is also supported by the Catskill Watershed Corporation (CWC) (a locally based nongovernmental organization), Cornell Cooperative Extension, and a network of Soil and Water Conservation Districts. Communities completing a LFA can apply to CWC for planning grants to help identify areas in local plans, codes, and maps where bought-out residents may relocate to minimize the social and economic costs of buyouts, including loss of local tax bases.

In addition, NYC provides a range of effective flood hazard mitigation tools, such as floodplain restoration projects, that can complement buyouts by lowering flood elevations and future repair costs for remaining improvements. Notably, NYC DEP administers a Land Acquisition Program — in addition to its Flood Buyout Program — with a focus on conserving land within the NYC watershed to protect water quality. This dual approach to both buyouts to mitigate flood risk and open space acquisitions to enhance water quality is a unique model that other state and local governments can replicate to achieve co-benefits through land acquisitions. Collectively, NYC’s multiple programs and projects can provide an example for other land-use planners and decisionmakers on how managed retreat through buyouts can be supported through a science-based, comprehensive approach that aims to maximize floodplain hazard mitigation and community resilience.


This case study is one of 17 case studies featured in a report written by the Georgetown Climate Center, Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas: Lessons and Tools from 17 Case Studies. Each case study tells a different story about how states, local governments, and communities across the country are approaching questions about managed retreat. Together, the case studies highlight how different types of legal and policy tools are being considered and implemented across a range of jurisdictions — from urban, suburban, and rural to riverine and coastal — to help support new and ongoing discussions on the subject. These case studies are intended to provide transferable lessons and potential management practices for coastal state and local policymakers evaluating managed retreat as one part of a strategy to adapt to climate change on the coast. 

For additional case studies and more information about managed retreat, also see Georgetown Climate Center’s Managed Retreat Toolkit.

Publication Date: July 15, 2020

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