State of the Beach/State Reports/CT/Beach Erosion
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9% of Connecticut's shoreline is critically eroding, according to the report State Coastal Program Effectiveness in Protecting Natural Beaches, Dunes, Bluffs, and Rock Shores (T. Bernd-Cohen and M. Gordon) Coastal Management 27:187-217, 1999.
According to the 2001 Assessment, coastal hazards represent low to moderate risks, as the state's shoreline is generally less vulnerable to storm forces than are open-ocean coastal states. The last major storm to strike Connecticut occurred in 1996. Historic development patterns have resulted in flood and erosion risks at certain "hotspot" locations along the shore. Although some information on erosion and other coastal dynamics does exist, compilation of this data and a spatial, graphic representation of these risks have not been developed.
A comprehensive assessment of the state's shoreline physical character and shoreline erosion was last published in 1979 during the development of the Connecticut Coastal Management Program. According to this report, 48 miles of Connecticut's shoreline is significantly affected by erosion. This amounts to 42% of the 113 miles of Connecticut shoreline identified in 2005 as directly fronting on Long Island Sound, and 5% of Connecticut’s total of 1,065 miles of shoreline identified in 2005 as affected by saline water. Milford (6.5 miles affected), West Haven (4.6 miles affected), Fairfield (4.6 miles affected), Madison (4 miles affected), and Old Lyme (3.5 miles affected) were the top five towns with significantly eroding shoreline. Shoreline erosion on the north side of Long Island Sound is not as critical, in terms of magnitude, as that encountered along shorelines exposed to the open ocean. For example, the outer shore of Cape Cod is subject to average erosion rates of three feet or more per year, which is three times of that experienced along Connecticut's coast. The Connecticut Coastal Management Program is currently working on an update to this report.
NOTE: CDEP staff comments that the 48 miles designated as eroding in 1979 was identified in conjunction with the identification of a total of 278 miles of shoreline “fronting” Long Island Sound (LIS). In 2005, due to changes in resource categorizations, only 113 miles of shoreline were judged to be directly fronting LIS. Consequently, the 48 miles may include shoreline not now regarded as fronting LIS – and it may therefore be erroneous to describe the 48 miles in terms of a percentage of the 113 miles.
An updated assessment of shoreline change in Connecticut was undertaken in 2013-2014 by three groups of experts: from Connecticut Sea Grant, a joint program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Connecticut; UConn’s Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR); and the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). This article published at ctmirror.org in April 2014 provides details of this effort and some great interactive graphics.
In contrast to beaches in other states in the northeast like New Jersey and New York, Connecticut's beaches along Long Island Sound are better protected from storm-caused erosion. As a result, beaches like Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison did not suffer much damage during early "nor'easter" storms in October 2005.
This does not mean that the beaches are immune from erosion. Despite a program to replenish Hammonasset with 5,000 cubic yards of sand per year, it was noted in December 2008 that erosion had become so severe that the entire West Beach was nearly gone and two bathhouses and a boardwalk were in danger of slipping away. In response, the Department of Environmental Protection aims to put 600,000 cubic yards of sand -- potentially dredged from the Housatonic River and Clinton Harbor Federal Navigation Projects -- on West Beach.
Another erosion problem spot is Grove Beach in Westbrook, which received sand from the Patchogue River dredging process, although the amount received has evidently been insufficient to counteract the erosion. Yet another problem area is Walnut Beach in Milford.
A USGS report National Assessment of Shoreline Change: Historical Shoreline Change along the New England and Mid-Atlantic Coasts was released in February 2011. The New England and Mid-Atlantic shores were subdivided into a total of 10 analysis regions for the purpose of reporting regional trends in shoreline change rates. The average rate of long-term shoreline change for the New England and Mid-Atlantic coasts was -0.5 meters per year. The average rate of short-term shoreline change for the New England and Mid-Atlantic coasts was also erosional but the rate of erosion decreased in comparison to long-term rates. The net short-term rate as averaged along 17,045 transects was -0.3 meters per year.
Connecticut Sea Grant is a source of information on sea level rise. http://www.seagrant.uconn.edu/
The Heinz Center's Evaluation of Erosion Hazards, conducted for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), studied the causes of coastal erosion hazards and proposed a variety of national and regional responses. The study, published in April 2000, concentrates on the economic impacts of erosion response policies as well as the cost of erosion itself to homeowners, businesses, and governmental entities.
A NOAA website that has graphs of sea level data for many coastal locations around the country over the last 40 to 50 years and projections into the future is Sea Levels Online.
NOAA Shoreline Website is a comprehensive guide to national shoreline data and terms and is the first site to allow vector shoreline data from NOAA and other federal agencies to be conveniently accessed and compared in one place. Supporting context is also included via frequently asked questions, common uses of shoreline data, shoreline terms, and references. Many NOAA branches and offices have a stake in developing shoreline data, but this is the first-ever NOAA Website to provide access to all NOAA shorelines, plus data from other federal agencies. The site is a culmination of efforts of NOAA and several offices within NOS (including NOAA’s Coastal Services Center, National Geodetic Survey, Office of Coast Survey, Special Projects Office, and Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management) and other federal agencies to provide coastal resource managers with accurate and useful shoreline data.
A related site launched in 2008 is NOAA Coastal Services Center's Digital Coast, which can be used to address timely coastal issues, including land use, coastal conservation, hazards, marine spatial planning, and climate change. One of the goals behind the creation of the Digital Coast was to unify groups that might not otherwise work together. This partnership network is building not only a website, but also a strong collaboration of coastal professionals intent on addressing coastal resource management needs. Website content is provided by numerous organizations, but all must meet the site’s quality and applicability standards. More recently, NOAA Coastal Services Center has developed a Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flooding Impacts Viewer as part of its Digital Coast website. Being able to visualize potential impacts from sea level rise is a powerful teaching and planning tool, and the Sea Level Rise Viewer brings this capability to coastal communities. A slider bar is used to show how various levels of sea level rise will impact coastal communities. Completed areas include Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, Florida, and Georgia, with additional coastal counties to be added in the near future. Visuals and the accompanying data and information cover sea level rise inundation, uncertainty, flood frequency, marsh impacts, and socioeconomics.
Erosion Contact Info
Office of Long Island Sound Programs
Bureau of Water Protection and Land Reuse
Department of Energy and Environmental Protection
79 Elm Street
Hartford, CT 06106-5127
Hazard Avoidance Policies/Erosion Response
See the Erosion Response section.
- Tom Ouellette, CDEP (OLISP), written communication. February 20, 2002.
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