Planning for Sea Level Rise in the Northeast: Considerations for the Implementation of Tidal Wetland Habitat Restoration Projects

This report is based on the results of a workshop held by the Northeast Region of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Restoration Center. This document provides a review of sea level rise (SLR) impacts on tidal wetlands in the Northeast as well as step-by-step guidance on the incorporation of relative sea level rise into tidal wetland restoration design. The report outlines a five part process to guide impact analyses and planning during their feasibility, design and monitoring phases. The methods outlined in the report will be field-tested by NOAA and the results of such efforts will be incorporated into further guidance for tidal wetland restoration projects in the Northeast.

The Sea Level Rise Planning Process is described in detail, following five steps:

Step 1: Predict relative sea level rise at site over 50 years
Step 2: Gather relevant information on project area
Step 3: Conduct relative sea level rise impact analysis
Step 4: Incorporate sea level rise analysis into project design
Step 5: Develop and implement plans for project maintenance and monitoring

The purpose of this guidance is to provide steps for assessing the vulnerability or sensitivity of a project to relative sea level rise and for how to avoid, minimize, adapt to, or mitigate these impacts through the use of best management practices or recommended alternatives. While aimed to guide site-specific project design, the report also can broadly inform regional priorities for projects. Accurately shaping site-specific design requires a range of localized data, from site elevation to human barriers to inland migration to the historic conditions of the site. Larger projects have additional recommended or required information to integrate, such as freshwater inflows and potential flooding from storm events.

Tidal wetlands in the Northeast are on the frontline of SLR, with effects including flooding, changes in tidal flow patterns, changes in sediment transport and vertical accretion rates, erosion, landward migration of tidal waters and habitats, changes in plant and animal species composition, habitat loss, migration of salinity gradients, and changes in tidal amplitude. The most concerning effect on tidal wetlands is flooding-caused plant community stress and loss. Protecting tidal wetlands also protects their ecological and human benefits, such as wildlife habitat, storm surge and flood protection, and recreation.

The report concludes that sea level is currently rising in the Northeast region and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, potentially at accelerating rates. Tidal wetland restoration, protection and creation efforts are essential for maintaining the many ecological services of coastal habitats, but these efforts must adapt to climate change. By accurately assessing future risks and benefits, and utilizing adaptive management practices, tidal wetland restoration projects can yield ecological and human benefits well into the future.

NOAA will update the plan every five years to maintain utility and applicability.

 

Publication Date: November 2011

Author or Affiliated User:

  • Helen McMillan

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  • Planning guides

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