State of the Beach/State Reports/DE/Erosion Response

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Delaware Ratings
Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access77
Water Quality89
Beach Erosion7-
Erosion Response-5
Beach Fill7-
Shoreline Structures6 3
Beach Ecology6-
Surfing Areas45
Coastal Development{{{19}}}{{{20}}}
Sea Level Rise{{{21}}}{{{22}}}


Erosion response is a measure of how well a state's policies and procedures limit the extent of shoreline armoring, unsafe coastal development, and costly beach nourishment projects, and conduct preemptive planning for sea level rise. Evaluation of this indicator brings attention to the states that are taking proactive roles in natural beach preservation and hazard avoidance. Through the formulation (if not already in place), implementation, and strict adherence of the specific criteria within the indicator, states can overcome two fundamental obstacles to alternative erosion response practices outlined by the Oceans Studies Board (2007):

  1. A lack of knowledge and experience among decision-makers regarding alternative options for shoreline erosion response, the relative level of erosion mitigation afforded by the alternative approaches and their expected life time, and the nature of the associated impacts and benefits.
  2. The current legal and regulatory framework itself, which discriminates against innovative solutions because of the complex and lengthy permitting process that almost always considers these options on a case-by-case basis.

For example, are statewide oceanfront construction setbacks used to site new development, and are these based on the latest erosion rates? When existing development is damaged during a storm, does a state prohibit reconstruction or provide incentives for relocation? Before permitting shoreline stabilization does a state require: that there is demonstrated need via geo-technical reports with content standards; that alternatives to armoring including managed retreat/relocation are fully explored; and that potential adverse impacts and cumulative effects are taken into account? Does the state conduct sea level rise vulnerability assessments and develop adaptation plans to mitigate impacts? If a state can answer 'yes' to most of these questions, then its rank is high. If the answers are mostly 'no' then its rank is low.

Also see the "Policies" discussion of the Shoreline Structures section of this report for more information on Delaware's erosion response.

Possible quantitative measures for this indicator include the number of new structures located within setback areas, number of damaged structures reconstructed in identified erosion zones, number of instances where alternatives to 'hard' shore protection were employed, the number of shoreline structures permitted under 'emergency' provisions, and the number of permits for shoreline structures reviewed, approved or denied. We have found that such information is rarely available.

Policies and Guidance

The Delaware Legislature passed the Beach Preservation Act (Chapter 68, Title 7 of the Delaware Code) in 1972. It establishes a Building Line along the coast as part of the Regulations Governing Beach Protection and the Use of Beaches. The Building Line, which parallels the coastline, is designated on DNREC Building Line maps. No construction may take place seaward of the line without a Coastal Construction Permit or Coastal Construction Letter of Approval from the Department. Construction, expansion, or modification of any structure within the beach area landward of the Building Line, including all buildings and amenities requires a Letter of Approval. The alteration, removal, or deposition of any substantial amount of beach sand or other materials landward of the Building Line and within the beach area also requires a Letter of Approval.

The Building Line is defined as:

The line generally paralleling the coast, set forth on maps prepared by the Division with reference to the National Geodetic Vertical Datum (NGVD) and the Delaware State Plane Coordinate System, and based upon information provided by topographic survey. The Building Line is located as follows:

  1. Along beaches extending from the Delaware/Maryland line to the tip of Cape Henlopen - 100 feet landward of the adjusted seawardmost 10-foot elevation contour above NGVD;
  2. Along beaches extending from the tip of Cape Henlopen to the southernmost limit of Primehook Beach - 100 feet landward of the adjusted seawardmost 7-foot elevation contour above NGVD;
  3. Along beaches extending from the southernmost limit of Primehook Beach to the Old Marina Canal north of Pickering Beach - 75 feet landward of the adjusted seawardmost 7-foot elevation contour above NGVD; or at the landward limits of the Beach, as defined in these Regulations, whichever is most seaward.

Construction Seward of the Building Line

Section 6805 (d) of the Beach Preservation Act states: The Department shall grant or deny a permit or letter of approval required by subsections (a) and (c) of this section in accordance with duly promulgated regulations. If any structure proposed to be built seaward of the building line could reasonably be reduced in size or otherwise altered in order to eliminate or diminish the amount of encroachment over the building line, the Department shall require such reduction or alteration as a condition of granting the permit or letter of approval. The 4-step process was created to formulate a way in which dwellings could be designed so that encroachment over the building line is minimized.

The full text of Delaware's Regulations Governing Beach Protection and the Use of Beaches is available online. Relevant Sections include 2.05 Construction Setback Lines - Prior Approvals, 2.08 Siting Requirements for Construction and Reconstruction of Structures, 3.01 Construction Seaward of the Building Line, and 3.02 Modification or Expansion of Structures Seaward of the Building Line.

A good general discussion of Delaware's Beach Preservation Act policies and Construction on Delaware's Coastline can be found on DNREC's website. Also on this page are Building Line Maps for specific beach areas and a link to 5102 Regulation Governing Beach Protection and the Use of Beaches which in some respects modifies the Beach Protection Act.

A basis for some of the beach policies in Delaware is a report titled Beaches 2000, which was published by DCMP for DNREC in 1988.

Also see the Coastal Storms Web page (seemingly stuck under development for years) on DNREC's website.

The DCMP and the DNERR coordinate to conduct special targeted projects that address current high-priority concerns or issues affecting the state's coastal resources. Typical special projects include:

  • Providing detailed geographic information system analysis and support to develop a new setback line, which will be needed for an update of Delaware's Regulations Governing the Use of Beaches.
  • Developing tools to help conservation planners prevent erosion and water pollution with riparian buffers.

DNREC has developed a brochure Striking a Balance – A Guide to Coastal Dynamics and Beach Management in Delaware that discusses the value of beaches and conflicts with coastal development. An updated and expanded edition of this brochure took top honors in the educational brochures category of the 2005 Communicator Awards. Free copies of the publication are available from the Shoreline & Waterway Management Office by contacting Jennifer Wheatley at 302-739-9921.

Delaware Sea Grant published two new guidance documents in 2009. They are:

Additional resources to help communities and individuals understand, assess and manage coastal hazards include:

DNREC began an effort in 2003 to update the building lines to reflect current aerial surveys of the coast. The DNREC Beach Preservation Act regulations became a source of controversy in 2006 when draft rules aimed at updating the Beach Preservation Act were presented to the public. Some building lines were shifted inland based on current aerial surveys of the coast. DNREC's draft rules would require relocation of homes that cross the building line if reconstuction costs exceeed 50 percent of the home's value. In response, homeowner-backed legislation was drafted that would let landowners build in the same home footprint unless 75 percent or more of the home or 50 percent of its pilings were lost.

In 2014, a panel of building officials, coastal residents, contractors and state regulators began meeting to look at a regulatory revision of the building lines. At a July 2014 meeting, committee members looked at the existing building lines and the ones that were proposed using 2004 data. They also looked at the four-step permit process that landowners use when they want to build or remodel in front of the line, and they considered the issue of temporary structures like beach concession shacks, which are typically placed on beaches only during the summer. They are just beginning work that ultimately could lead to revision in the state's beach construction policies. More details in this article from delawareonline which also mentions setback or building line policies in North Carolina, Maryland and New Jersey.

DNREC sees their responsibility as keeping people from building inappropriately on the dune or in front of the dune.

The Lewes Planning Commission on Feb. 16, 2005 got what University of Delaware professor Wendy Carey called "Sea Level Rise 101" – a short and technical course in what scientists know and don’t know – about rising sea levels. Carey said while scientists have calculated sea-level increases that are wide-ranging, the greatest predicted increase is 3 millimeters a year. That translates to an increase locally of 1 foot by the year 2100. Here is a graph showing the upward trend in sea level at Lewes throughout the 20th century. For planners in coastal areas, there is a simple answer that would solve many problems. "Prevent development in areas that are likely to flood," she said. "People who build or buy homes in flood prone areas should do their homework. People need to know what happens during a coastal storm. It doesn’t hurt to build higher than what’s required".

Delaware is developing a Statewide Adaptation Plan for Sea Level Rise. Sea level rise effects have implications for coastal access and recreation, transportation networks, public safety and land use patterns. Delaware's adaptation plan, when complete, will recommend policy changes and practices that will ensure that Delaware makes informed policy and investment decisions today to prevent damage and losses to infrastructure, resources and homes tomorrow. More info. February 2013 newspaper article.

You can now access the complete report Preparing for Tomorrow’s High Tide, Recommendations for Adapting to Sea Level Rise in Delaware (September 2013) on DNREC's website. You can also find the shorter executive summary there as well. The state has also posted an interactive inundation map, where you can plug in your address and see what your neighborhood might look like if the sea level rose by 0.5, 1.0, or 1.5 meters.

In early 2013 Delaware became the ninth state and the first in the mid-Atlantic to launch a state-specific StormSmart Coasts website. The StormSmart Coasts Network of state and local sites gives coastal decision makers a place to find and share resilience-related resources and provides tools for collaboration.

The Delaware Homeowners Handbook to Prepare for Natural Hazards was created to help homeowners reduce risks to people and property from natural hazard events. It dispels myths about natural disaster preparation; details how hurricanes, northeasters, floods, and tornadoes have affected Delaware in the past; and explains how residents can protect themselves and their families with emergency supplies, evacuation kits, and reliable communication channels. Information about creating wind-, flood- and rain-resistant homes is provided along with tips about electrical and power issues. The handbook was a collaborative effort by the Delaware Sea Grant College Program, the Delaware Emergency Management Agency, and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

EPA has published a summary document Governments Plan for Development of Land Vulnerable to Rising Sea Level: Delaware (2010).

Former Governor Russell Peterson signed the Delaware Coastal Zone Act into law on June 27, 1971. The Governor and General Assembly of 1971 recognized that the coastal areas of Delaware are the most critical areas for the future of the State in terms of quality of life. This law is designed to protect Delaware's coastal area from the destructive impacts of heavy industrialization and offshore bulk product transfer facilities. The Act is intended to protect the natural environment of the coastal areas and safeguard their use primarily for recreation and tourism.

DNREC has a Delaware's Coastal Dunes brochure. Additional information on dunes can be found on DNREC's Dune Protection and Improvement Web page and the Barrier Island/Sand Cycle Web page.

Every spring since 1990, many dedicated volunteers have stabilized Delaware's sand dunes by planting more than 4.8 million stems of Cape American beachgrass along ocean and bay beaches.

Climate Change Adaptation


The State of Delaware is uniquely poised to effectively adapt to climate change. With only 3 coastal counties totaling 20 miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline, the State’s coastal area is relatively manageable when compared to those of California or Florida. Furthermore, unlike many coastal states with privately owned coastal zones, the State of Delaware and various conservation groups combined own nearly 50% of the Delaware coastline. In this sense, much of the coastline will be allowed to retreat naturally as sea-levels rise. And while the state does not currently follow an official policy of managed retreat, nor are setbacks erosion-rate based, many coastal projects and agencies are beginning to consider sea level rise in their planning processes.

Recent years have witnessed increased efforts on the State’s behalf to both mitigate and adapt to climate change. In one of the most progressive actions to date, Delaware’s Coastal Program has embarked on a Sea Level Rise Adaptation Initiative, and is in the processes of completing its Sea Level Rise Adaptation Plan. In another groundbreaking study, researchers undertook an extensive public survey to gauge the extent of climate change awareness and concern among its citizens. LiDAR mapping has been completed for the entire state, and two coastal community pilot adaptation projects are currently underway. The state also maintains a climate change website and has various educational and outreach tools available for the public. Susan Love, a Coastal Program Planner, also described the state’s approach to climate change adaptation and its response to sea-level rise as a “ground-up, organic initiative”, versus those of states like California that are more “top-down”. She points out that since adaptation and sea-level rise issues are in actuality local issues, it is very difficult to implement effective strategies from the state level. The uniqueness of each locality further lends itself to handling adaptation issues on a case-by-case basis, rather than attempting a “one-size-fits-all” approach.

Although there are numerous climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies available for immediate use by the state, implementation of these initiatives is largely stalled by a lack of agency delegation. Land use planning and implementation in Delaware, additionally, occurs at a very local level, making it difficult to legislate from the state level concerning land use in the coastal area. To remedy this situation, both the Coastal Program and the State soon hope to start formally creating working groups to deal with specific climate change and sea-level rise issues. In the near term, the Coastal Program expects some local level successes, such as the state government appropriately citing infrastructure and moving development outside of certain high risk area, which will eventually translate into concrete, statewide actions in the long-term. It is suggested, for example, that the state stop building roads in flood/inundation zones as they will continued to be wiped out and further facilitate unwanted development. And although a Sea Level Rise Adaptation Plan is in progress, Delaware still lacks a State Adaptation Plan, ten years after the release of its initial Climate Action Plan.

Climate Change

Researched and written by the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy (CEEP) of the University of Delaware, with the guidance and advice of the Delaware Climate Change Consortium (DCCC), the Delaware Climate Change Action Plan sets forth a series of comprehensive climate change mitigation strategies and GHG reduction goals. Released in 2000, the Action Plan represented the second phase of climate change policy research jointly sponsored by the USEPA and DSEO. The first phase of the project requires states to inventory their GHG emissions by economic sector. In 1995 CEEP produced a report on Delaware’s greenhouse gas sources and sinks for the Delaware State Energy Office entitled the Delaware Greenhouse Gas Inventory (CEEP 1995). This analysis revealed the levels of major greenhouse gases produced by each economic sector within the state. Using a number of techniques, a set of estimates was produced by end-use sector. Inventory results established the benchmark for the modeling and analysis conducted in this study. Using these benchmarks, the Delaware Action Plan was able to provide specific GHG reduction goals and strategies for each sector. Chapter 9 of the Action Plan provides the policy recommendations drawn from the sector analyses.

The Action Plan included the following goals:

  • To identify those areas of opportunity for reducing the State’s greenhouse gas emissions which use the best available information and are cost-effective for Delaware;
  • To educate communities and raise their awareness of climate change and practical opportunities to reduce the State’s greenhouse gas emissions;
  • To establish a Delaware Climate Change Consortium representing a wide range of ideas and providing advice on the design and details of an Action Plan that serves Delaware’s long-term economic, social and environmental interests; and
  • To publish and disseminate an Action Plan that provides Delawareans with a practical, analytically-based strategy to contribute to regional, national and international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Previously the DCCC had adopted a GHG emissions reduction target for Delaware of 7% below the state’s 1990 emissions by the year 2010. In this Action Plan, the DCCC developed a set of policy options that can help Delaware reach this goal, which will amount to a decrease of almost 25% in State emissions by 2010.

In addition to mitigation strategies, Chapter 8 of the Action Plan describes the education and outreach activities that would assist in emission reduction policy formulation and implementation. Although the Action Plan includes sea-level rise and coastal flooding as impacts arising from climate change, it fails to incorporate any form of adaptation strategy or mention of a State Adaptation Plan.

Despite lacking a State Adaptation Plan, the state has taken it upon itself to specifically develop a Statewide Adaptation Plan for Sea Level Rise. When complete, the Plan will recommend policy changes and practices that will ensure it makes informed policy and investment decisions today to prevent damage and losses to infrastructure, resources, and homes tomorrow.

In April 2002, Governor Ruth Ann Minner established the Delaware Energy Task Force through Executive Order 31. The Task Force’s mission was to address the state’s long-term and short-term energy challenges. The Task Force released its final report Bright Ideas for Delaware’s Energy Future in 2003. Also known as the 2003 Delaware Energy Plan, the report addresses the comprehensive set of energy issues outlined in EO 31, identifies a key set of strategic options for use in guiding Delaware’s energy future, and recommends creation of a new statewide climate commission. Approximately 80 specific actions were listed to help the government achieve the goals of reducing the quantity and environmental impacts of energy usage. As of 2005, action was being taken on approximately three-quarters of the report’s recommendations.

The Plan also resulted in the passage of numerous pieces of legislation, including HB 434 (2004) that created the Governor’s Energy Advisory Council. Among other things, the Council was tasked with monitoring the progress on energy plan implementation and developing a new energy plan for Delaware every five years. Submitted to the Governor in 2009, the Delaware Energy Plan 2009-2014 represents the Council’s first energy plan. The Plan presented a series of High Priority, Second Tier, and Third Tier recommendations to help the state reduce its GHG emissions and better plan for its energy future. Highlights of the plan include a strong focus on energy efficiency, increasing renewable energy opportunities, weatherization of Delaware’s housing stock with particular focus on low and moderate income homes, improving how Delaware manages energy policy and capitalizing on Delaware’s strengths in growing a clean energy economy. Currently the Advisory Council does not maintain a climate change website or site detailing their activities, those of which can be found through the DNREC website.

On December 20, 2005, seven states, including Delaware, announced an agreement to implement the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI, pronounced “Reggie”). The RGGI is a cooperative effort by states in the region to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions—an important step in helping reduce human-induced climate change. RGGI importantly represents the first mandatory cap-and-trade program in the U.S. aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, participating states include: Delaware, Maine, New Jersey, Vermont, Maryland, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. Delaware’s Regulation 1147 establishes Delaware's portion of a multi-state carbon dioxide (CO2) cap-and trade program. For more information on Delaware’s implementation of the RGGI program click here.

Delaware Governor Ruth Ann Minner issued Executive Order 82 on February 6, 2006 that requires several state agencies to develop energy efficiency plans and pursue energy performance contracts in order to reduce energy consumption.

The Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Reduction Projects Advisory Body was established and met in May 2010. It is currently working on developing a request for proposal (RFP) for Greenhouse Gas Reduction Projects that will fund Delaware projects resulting in greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

Executive Order 18: Leading by Example Towards a Clean Energy Economy & Sustainable Natural Environment, was signed by Governor Markell on February 17, 2010. The order requires state agencies to take actions to address energy conservation and efficiency, use of renewable energy, environmentally responsible construction, recycling, clean transportation and environmentally sensitive procurement.

Through Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), the state maintains a climate change website explaining the science behind climate change and how climate change is expected to affect Delaware. The website provides links to numerous climate change publications, and even focuses specifically on Coastal Impacts that include sea-level rise; shoreline erosion, migration and coastal flooding; and wetlands and intertidal habitat loss . The website describes past and future climate change projections, and also provides an overview of the State’s sea-level rise adaptation initiatives.

For additional climate change mitigation documents, reports, and legislation for the state of Delaware, see:


Sea level rise has longed been recognized as a serious threat to Delaware’s coastline. As early as 1972, with the passage of the Beach Preservation Act (Chapter 68, Title 7 of the Delaware Code), the State aimed to enhance, preserve, and protect public and private beaches and to ensure their use as protective and recreational lands. The act governs Delaware’s coastal development, and in doing so, defines the extent of the beach and establishes a building line along the coast as part of the Regulations Governing Beach Protection and the Use of Beaches. Along the coast the building line varies between 100 feet to 75 feet landward, as measured from either 10-ft or 7-ft elevation contours. In accordance with the act, no construction, expansion, or modification of any structure may take place seaward of this line without a coastal construction permit or Letter of Approval. Stated in The Geological Structure of the Shorelines of Delaware, Delaware Sea Grant Technical Report, associated regulations (updated in 1983) recognize:

“The present sea level rise rate, relative to land features, is approximately 1/2 foot per century” (no source) and recognizes that “beach stabilization projects must be undertaken with the knowledge that their implementation will only serve to slow the natural processes for a relatively short period of time.”

More information on the Beach Preservation Act.

In 1988, the Environmental Legacy Report also acknowledged sea level rise as an indicator of potential future environmental stress and highlighted the impacts of erosion along the ocean shoreline.

Despite the lack of a State Adaptation Plan, the Delaware Coastal Program has been working diligently in recent years on its groundbreaking Sea Level Rise Adaptation Initiative, stating:

"In order to prepare for sea level rise and prevent future damages to coastal communities, we must understand and plan for the potential impacts of accelerated sea level rise. To help reach this goal, the Delaware Coastal Programs Section of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control has begun its multi-year Sea Level Rise Initiative."

The goal of the Initiative is to develop policies that address sea level rise through the Statewide Sea Level Rise Adaptation Plan, provide scientific technical decision support for these policies, successfully implement the policies in order to effectively address sea level rise, and educate stakeholders and the public on sea level rise issues and adaptation strategies.

In October 2007, the Delaware Coastal Program submitted the project proposal, Development of a Sea Level Rise Adaptation Plan for the State of Delaware, to NOAA’s Coastal Services Center, proposing:

"The development of a Sea Level Rise Adaptation Plan for the State of Delaware [will enable] the State to move forward with the identified critical planning need, within the context of scientific uncertainty. Strategies will be developed based on the best science available. Utilizing adaptive management allows for revisions to management strategies as new science and information becomes available."

Major objectives of the project include:

  • Research and evaluate sea level rise management strategies and tools used at the federal level and in other states to identify potential models for Delaware.
  • Review and prioritize sea level rise issues in Delaware and develop a report on the state of the science, policy, and regulatory environment
  • Develop recommendations for comprehensive sea level rise adaptation planning and management strategies and regulatory revisions.
  • Develop an implementation plan for these recommendations.

The project proposal also explicitly states that “the plan is not intended to address impacts of global warming or Delaware’s carbon footprint, an important issue to be addressed by other initiatives”.

Creation of the SLR Adaptation Plan will occur in three phases:

  1. An issues characterization phase, during which, teams of experts will research and document environmental, economic and social resources at risk from the effects of sea level rise
  2. A strategy development phase, during which, teams of experts will recommend ways to address the issues and minimize loss of resources
  3. An implementation phase, during which, recommendations will be incorporated into policies and programs at all levels of government and where additional research will occur.

Released in October 2010, the DCP Sea Level Rise Project Compendium provides an at-a-glance inventory and timeline of projects (see pages 4-6) that are currently underway as part of the Delaware Coastal Programs’ Sea Level Rise Initiative. The Compendium classifies the projects as Scientific and Technical Decision Support, Implementation Actions, or Policy Development. Although some of these projects are addressed below, for a complete list and explanation of each project see the Compendium. Also see the Sea Level Rise Adaptation Plan project proposal and the brochure Adapting to Sea Level Rise – Delaware’s Planning Process.

In February 2010 Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control (DNREC) released its updated Sea Level Rise Policy, declaring:

"It is the position of the Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control (DNREC) that sea level rise is currently occurring and will continue to occur at an accelerated rate due to global climate change. Further, it is the policy of DNREC to proactively consider and plan for the potential effects of coastal inundation department-wide using projections based on the best available science."

The document further noted that a policy addressing the effects of inundation by adapting to sea-level rise will make Delaware more resilient to both short-term storm events and long term sea level rise. The document subsequently set forth a policy that the DNREC and its employees will follow when approving, engineering, designing, planning, and reviewing coastal projects. DNREC will also begin incorporating various sea level rise scenarios into project planning and development.

As part of Delaware’s Sea Level Rise Initiative, the Coastal Program published the report Delaware Residents’ Opinions on Climate Change and Sea Level Rise (2010). An especially novel initiative, the report acknowledges that:

"In order to effectively plan and target sea level rise outreach and technical assistance, it is important to understand the public perception of sea level rise. However, there is currently no statewide information available regarding the level of knowledge Delawareans possess regarding sea level rise and its future impacts; nor whether Delawareans are motivated to change their behaviors to reduce their risk to impacts associated with sea level rise."

In order to address this need, a statewide telephone survey of 1,505 Delaware residents was completed to assess Delaware residents’ awareness and understanding of key issues regarding climate change and sea level rise; to determine their perception of its overall effect on the economy and ecology of the state; and to explore public opinion regarding long range planning for sea level rise loss and damage prevention.

Findings from the survey helps to contextualize concern about climate change and sea level rise with regards to a broad range of other issues the country faces. Presented with a list of 10 issues, only about a third of Delaware residents said they were very concerned about climate change and sea level rise. The economy (75%) and health care (72%) top the list, while climate change (36%) and sea level rise (30%) occupy the bottom of the ranking. Even when climate change and sea level rise are presented in a list of environmental issues (as opposed to the broader list of general issues), concern about them remains fairly low—once again, climate change and sea level rise occupy the bottom of the ranking, with far more Delaware residents being very concerned about water pollution (76%), toxic waste (72%), and air quality (65%). However, since many of these individual issues are actually exacerbated by climate change, results from the surveys suggest that Delaware residents tend to be very concerned about the effects of climate change and sea level rise, even if the specific phrases climate change and sea level rise by themselves appear to elicit lower levels of concern. The data also reveals distinctions between coastal and non-coastal residents, finding that coastal residents are more likely to think that sea level rise is having an impact on Delaware now, whereas non-coastal residents are more likely to they impacts from sea level rise will occur in years to come.

The report represents an extremely useful tool for coastal managers and policy makers in devising education and outreach programs related to climate change and sea-level rise. Studies of this kind will enable managers to better focus their resources and messaging materials so as to most effectively aid Delaware’s citizens in adapting to climate change.

For a more detailed analysis of the Report’s findings, see: Delaware Residents’ Opinions on Climate Change and Sea Level Rise: Discussion of Survey Results and Messaging Implications – White Paper.

Preparing for Tomorrow’s High Tide: Sea Level Rise Vulnerability Assessment for the State of Delaware (July 2012) was developed by the DNREC Delaware Coastal Programs with input, advice and guidance from members of Delaware’s Sea Level Rise Advisory Committee. The assessment contains background information about sea level rise, methods used to determine vulnerability, and a comprehensive accounting of the extent and impacts that sea level rise will have on 79 resources in the state. Information contained within the document and its appendixes will be used by the Delaware Sea Level Rise Advisory Committee and other stakeholders to guide development of sea level rise adaptation strategies. Learn more.

You can now access the report Preparing for Tomorrow’s High Tide, Recommendations for Adapting to Sea Level Rise in Delaware (September 2013) on DNREC's website. You can also find the shorter executive summary there as well. The state has also posted an interactive inundation map, where you can plug in your address and see what your neighborhood might look like if the sea level rose by 0.5, 1.0, or 1.5 meters.

Striking a Balance: A Guide to Coastal Dynamics and Beach Management in Delaware (2004) includes sea level rise adaptation as one factor necessary to effectively manage beaches. The publication outlines four management options, including costs and benefits, for beach erosion control and property protection. The options analyzed are taking no action, shoreline hardening, strategic retreat, and beach nourishment. While the report does acknowledge the benefits of strategic retreat, it also repeatedly cites a 2001 University of Delaware study that concluded strategic retreat will most likely incur high costs for the state, have significant social repercussions, and most difficultly, will require sound legislation, funding, and firm commitment by the Administration and State Legislature. Delaware’s Coastal Program published an updated version of “Striking a Balance” in 2006. This report expands on the issues of sea level rise, coastal processes, and related impacts to habitats and coastal water quality.

Climate Change and the Delaware Estuary: Three Case Studies in Vulnerability Assessment and Adaptation Planning was published in 2010 by the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, with support from EPA’s Climate Ready Estuaries Program. These case studies were developed to assess climate change vulnerability and adaptation options for tidal wetlands, drinking water, and bivalve shellfish. Each chapter provides a list of recommended actions. In the report, tidal wetland experts identified the most promising adaptation tactic for tidal wetlands as allowing for landward migration. For some tidal wetlands, this can be facilitated by protecting the natural buffers alongside wetlands and instituting structure setbacks so that wetlands can make their way into those areas as sea-level rises. For areas where structures, roads, or other improvements are in the way of wetland migration, their removal (a type of strategic retreat) may be the best adaptation option. Experts also identified the installation of living shorelines as a promising adaptation tactic in places where they can effectively stem erosion.

Currently underway are the City of New Castle and Town of Bower’s Beach adaptation pilot projects, both of which are working towards incorporating sea level rise into their planning. These pilots, once proven successful, will then be used as models for other counties/municipalities that are facing similar issues and threats. Some of the other traditional beach towns are also beginning to complete coastal resiliency strategies. For more information see:

Sea Level Rise Impacts for Wilmington, Delaware is a sea-level rise pilot project stemming from the collaborative efforts of NOAA, USGS, and Delaware’s DNR. The project maps potential flooding caused by sea-level rise along Delaware’s coastal area, identifying areas especially at risk from sea-level rise inundation. The map illustrates the scale of potential flooding, not the exact location, and does not account for erosion, subsidence, or future construction. The project also provides pie charts depicting increases in flood frequencies in relation to sea level rise increases. Flooding episodes were calculated for sea level rises of 1.6 ft, 3.3 ft, as well as no change in sea level rise.

Integrating hazard mitigation planning with its focus on past events with climate change adaptation and its attention to what might happen in the future has been a topic of discussion for many coastal resource managers. A recently completed pilot project in the City of Lewes, Delaware, resulted in the first-ever community action plan that successfully combines the two planning processes. ICLEI and Delaware Sea Grant worked in collaboration with city officials and staff members, citizens, and state, regional, and federal representatives to create the City of Lewes Hazard Mitigation and Climate Adaptation Action Plan. The plan was unanimously adopted by the Lewes City Council on August 15, 2011.

Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC)'s executive director and other staff members are involved in committees, participated in panel discussions, given presentations, and have attended conferences on the subject of climate change. Additionally, the commission has and is currently exploring funding opportunities to investigate these important topics further. DRBC's State of the Basin Report (2008) includes a feature on climate change (in the hydrology section), which highlights the need for more localized studies, mapping, monitoring, and modeling, as well as for planning initiatives that integrate the reality of a changing climate.

The DNREC, using a “Whole Basin Management” approach, has developed the Inland Bay/Atlantic Beach Ocean Basin Assessment Report. The recommendations in the 2001 assessment include “prepar[ing] for climate change and sea-level rise by practicing retreat” and also suggests that “setback requirements should be increased along the shoreline.”

The Delaware Sea Grant Marine Advisory Service has worked extensively with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) on sea-level-rise issues. This includes hosting workshops on sea level rise and coastal inundation (e.g., a recent series called “Delaware Coastal Issues”), initiating coastal resiliency programs, as well as hosting several presentations on sea level rise for the general public.

The Delaware DNREC Division of Soil and Water Conservation (Shoreline and Waterway Management Section) has conducted outreach work on topics related to sea level rise and shoreline change. Additionally, the DNREC Flood Mitigation Program has worked over the past several years to incorporate the concept of sea level rise into flood mitigation planning.

Statewide LiDAR mapping has been completed for the entire coastline, for 0.5, 1.0, and 1.5 meter sea level rise options, which are accepted as the most likely sea level rise scenarios into 2100. Thus, in a way, the Delaware Coastal Program is in fact starting to plan for sea-level rise into 2100, and is currently using these maps to prioritize vulnerabilities. The maps are also being utilized to help officials to begin "thinking forward" and considering climate change in their coastal zones, and reevaluate in the way their coastal zones are being managed.

Delaware has recently completed a number of additional sea level rise and coastal flooding/inundation studies. For more detailed information see:

Additional Resources

  1. Adapting to Sea Level Rise - Delaware's Planning Process
  2. Regulation Governing Beach Protection and the Use of Beaches (Title 7 Natural Resources and Environmental Control, 5000 Division of Soil and Water Conservation)
  3. NOAA and Connecticut Sea Grant have released Cost-Efficient Climate Adaptation in the North Atlantic, a report that looks at community-level coastal flood management and climate change adaptation best practices throughout the North Atlantic region of the United States.
  4. State and Local Information on Vulnerable Species and Coastal Policies in the Mid-Atlantic
  5. Climate Change and Delaware
  6. Development of a Sea Level Rise Adaptation Plan for the State of Delaware
  7. The Likelihood of Shore Protection in Delaware

Coastal Barrier Resources Act

The federal Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA), passed in 1982, was designed to "minimize the loss of human life, wasteful expenditure of federal revenues, and the damage to fish, wildlife and other natural resources" by denying federal support for everything from sewer construction to flood insurance in undeveloped or little-developed coastal areas such as barrier islands. CBRA does not restrict development in these areas, but it indirectly discourages development by denying the use of federal funds for development projects or redevelopment after storm or flood damage. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service administers this program, which identified 1.3 million acres of coastal land to be covered by the act. Unfortunately, pressure by property owners and developers in these areas has lead Congress to pass dozens of exemption bills which exclude certain areas from CBRA, thus thwarting the intent of the Act.

The Coastal Barrier Improvement Act (CBIA) was enacted on November 16, 1990. The CBIA resulted in reauthorization of the CBRA of 1982. The CBRA establishes the Coastal Barrier Resources System (CBRS) to protect areas such as undeveloped coastal barrier islands. There is a discussion of CBRA on NOAA's web site that concludes:

"Although the removal of federal funding assistance has discouraged development in some coastal barrier islands, development has continued in other areas despite designation as a unit of the CBRS. CBIA is not intended to prevent or regulate development in high-risk areas; rather the intent is to direct that federal dollars not be spent for development in these areas. Activities conducted in areas adjacent to CBRS units may adversely impact these sensitive areas; these activities are not regulated under CBIA. In addition, CBIA does not restrict the use of private, local, or state funding within CBRS units. Some coastal states have initiated legislation that limits state funding of certain projects."

A report released in March 2007 reviews the extent to which (1) development has occurred in CBRS units since their inclusion in the system and (2) federal financial assistance and permits have been provided to entities in CBRS units. GAO electronically mapped address data for structures within 91 randomly selected CBRS units and collected information on federal financial assistance and permits for eight federal agencies. GAO found multiple federal agencies have provided some financial assistance to property owners in CBRS units that is expressly prohibited by CBRA; some assistance allowed under CBRA; and hundreds of permits for federally regulated development activities within the unit. GAO recommended, among other things, the four agencies that provided prohibited loan guarantees or insurance policies to CBRS units first verify and then cancel those that are in violation of CBRA.

On April 7, 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released to the public its Report to Congress: John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System Digital Mapping Pilot Project. The report, which was directed by the Coastal Barrier Resources Reauthorization Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-514), highlights the benefits of updating Coastal Barrier Resources System (CBRS) maps with more accurate and precise digital maps to better protect people, coastal areas and natural resources. A 2016 report is now available.

FEMA has now developed a fact sheet on CBRA. The fact sheet outlines the responsibilities and restrictions that various programs within FEMA have under CBRA.

General Reference Documents

EPA's Risk-Based Adaptation website (under the heading of Climate-Ready Estuaries) provides several resources and tools to help users identify, analyze, prioritize and reduce their climate change risks.

An informative publication is Ten Principles for Coastal Development (2007) by the Urban Land Institute.

The Coastal States Organization (CSO) has published two reports relating to climate change adaptation. The first is Coastal Community Resilience: An Evaluation of Resilience as a Potential Performance Measure of the Coastal Zone Management Act (July 2008). (No link to this could be found.) Developed by CSO staff and CSO’s Coastal Resilience Steering Committee, the document demonstrates the value of resilience to coastal management and offers concrete recommendations for enhancing resilience at the state and local level. The second document is The Role of Coastal Zone Management Programs in Adaptation to Climate Change (September 2008)(PDF, 732KB). The report includes detailed results of a 2008 adaptation survey designed to obtain up to date information on the status of adaptation planning, priority information needs, and the anticipated resource needs of the coastal states, commonwealths, and territories.

In April 2009, the Heinz Center and Ceres announced the release of their Resilient Coasts - A Blueprint for Action, to outline steps to reduce risks and losses in the face of growing threats. The Heinz Center and Ceres produced the blueprint with a coalition of leading insurers, public officials, risk experts, builders, and conservation groups. The blueprint is endorsed by many groups, including The Travelers Institute, The Nature Conservancy, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Wharton School, and the Mayor of Charleston, South Carolina. The blueprint includes policy changes and common sense actions that could reduce economic losses from future storms and rising sea levels by as much as half along U.S. coastlines. The blueprint outlines specific recommendations, including: enabling planning for climate impacts by providing the necessary science and decision-making tools; requiring risk-based land use planning; designing adaptable infrastructure and building code standards to meet future risk; strengthening ecosystems as part of a risk mitigation strategy; developing flexible adaptation plans; maintaining a viable private property and casualty insurance market; and integrating climate change impacts into due diligence for investment and lending. The coalition urges the Obama administration, Congress, local leaders and the private sector to see that blueprint actions are implemented through regulation, investment, education, and other means.

In January 2010 the National Association of Counties released Building Resilient Coastal Communities: Counties and the Digital Coast which highlights many of the Digital Coast resources that counties use to address coastal flooding, habitat conservation and land use. More resources, tools and data are available through NOAA's Digital Coast website.

More recently, NOAA Coastal Management 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.

StormSmart Coasts is a resource for coastal decision makers looking for the latest and best information on how to protect their communities from weather and climate hazards. StormSmart Legal is a new addition to the StormSmart Coasts Network that provides information about property rights, regulatory takings, and permissible government regulation in coastal areas.

In December 2012 NOAA's Climate Program Office released a report Global Sea Level Rise Scenarios for the United States National Climate Assessment. The report was produced in response to a request from the U.S. National Climate Assessment Development and Advisory Committee. It provides a synthesis of the scientific literature on global sea level rise, and a set of four scenarios of future global sea level rise. The report includes input from national experts in climate science, physical coastal processes, and coastal management.

NOAA's Coastal and Waterfront Smart Growth website is organized into 10 chapters describing different elements essential for communities interested in implementing coastal and waterfront smart growth. By clicking on the individual chapters, you can get a description of each Coastal and Waterfront Smart Growth Element, how this relates to the Coastal and Waterfront Issues, Tools and Techniques you can use in your community, and Case Studies of successes. Each chapter contains a navigation box allowing quick access to the information and the ability to download the content of each page. A 2012 report by NOAA and EPA on Achieving Hazard-Resilient Coastal & Waterfront Smart Growth presents ideas shared by smart growth and hazard mitigation experts related to building hazard-resilient coastal communities.

EPA has a website devoted to preparing for rising sea level and other consequences of changing climate. The premise of the Greenhouse Effect and Sea Level Rise website is that society should take measures to make our coastal development and ecosystems less vulnerable to a rise in sea level. The papers on this site demonstrate that numerous low-cost measures, if implemented, would make the United States less vulnerable to rising sea level. A more recent EPA website is Adapting to Climate Change, but was removed by the Trump administration.

Coastal Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerabilities (USGS-NOAA, January 2013) emphasizes the need for increased coordination and planning to ensure U.S. coastal communities are resilient against the effects of climate change. The report examines and describes climate change impacts on coastal ecosystems and human economies and communities, as well as the kinds of scientific data, planning tools and resources that coastal communities and resource managers need to help them adapt to these changes. Case studies are presented for Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

In December 2012 the Lincoln Institute released Coastal States’ Climate Adaptation Initiatives: Sea Level Rise and Municipal Engagement (Working Paper). This paper explores how states and municipalities interact to address sea level rise, providing an overview of the state of practice, some reasons for different levels of action, and some of the needs of municipalities. It includes recommendations for ways states can provide adaptation support to municipalities.

Coastal Risk Reduction and Resilience: Using the Full Array of Measures, (pdf, 1.2 MB) published in September 2013, discusses the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' capabilities to help reduce risks to coastal areas and improve resilience to coastal hazards through an integrated planning approach. Federal, state, local, non-governmental organization and private sector interests connected to our coastal communities possess a complementary set of authorities and capabilities for developing more integrated coastal systems. The effective implementation of an integrated approach to flood and coastal flood hazard mitigation relies on a collaborative, shared responsibility framework between Federal, state, and local agencies and the public.

The National Climate Assessment is an extensive report released through the U.S. Global Change Research Program and produced by a large team of experts with the guidance of the Federal Advisory Committee. The report is put out every few years, with the most recent one being the 2014 National Climate Assessment and the next report expected to be released in 2018-2019. It includes numerous studies on the impacts of climate change on different economic sectors and geographic regions in the U.S. An important and applicable portion of the report is the Response Strategies section, which lays out actionable ways that decision-makers ranging from the federal government to private-sector companies can take to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

State of the Beach Report: Delaware
Delaware Home Beach Description Beach Access Water Quality Beach Erosion Erosion Response Beach Fill Shoreline Structures Beach Ecology Surfing Areas Website
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