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

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New Hampshire Ratings
Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access86
Water Quality89
Beach Erosion3-
Erosion Response-5
Beach Fill2-
Shoreline Structures8 3
Beach Ecology3-
Surfing Areas35
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 New Hampshire'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

New Hampshire revised the definition of the high water mark in 1995, extending more landward state permit jurisdiction.[1]

RSA 483-B, the Comprehensive Shoreland Protection Act (CSPA) was originally enacted in 1991 and established standards for the subdivision, use and development of the shorelands of the state’s public waters. The standards of the CSPA are designed to ensure that development within the protected shoreland occurs in a manner that protects water quality. Among other things, the standards established:

  • Setbacks for septic systems
  • A 50’ primary building setback
  • A 150’ natural woodland buffer
  • Stormwater and erosion control requirements
  • Density requirements for new lots
  • Restrictions on the use of fertilizer
  • Restrictions on salt storage yards, junk yards and solid waste facilities
  • Urbanized shoreland exemption. On July 1, 2008, additional standards (see below) became effective.

New Hampshire implemented a new set of shoreline construction regulations on July 1, 2008 concerning what can and cannot be built on waterfront property. On July 1, 2007 the state Legislature passed amendments to the 1994 Comprehensive Shoreland Protection Act that simplified some protections in the statute while redefining others. The aim of the amendments and the state's educational outreach is to streamline the state's permit process and reduce the confusion property owners have experienced. Effective July 1, 2008 under the New Shoreland Protection Act Standards, a state shoreland permit will be required for construction, excavation or filling activities not included in the exemptions detailed in the law, within 250 feet of the reference line. For coastal waters the reference line is the highest observable tide line. The Shoreland Program website has extensive information on the changes in regulations, including FAQs, a homeowners guide, fact sheets, and a Powerpoint presentation.

At many locations in the southern reaches of the state, homes being rebuilt or renovated within 50 feet of lakes and ponds often predate the statute. However, the act now has stringent regulations regarding construction so close to the water, rules that must be followed regardless of when the house was built.

Also see regulations for fill and dredge in wetlands.

On Aug. 21, 2013 Gov. Maggie Hassan signed Senate Bills 163 and 164, landmark environmental legislation sponsored by State Senator David Watters. The Coastal Risk and Hazards Commission, established by Senate Bill 163, will recommend legislation to prepare for projected sea level rise and other coastal and coastal watershed hazards such as storms, increased river flooding, and storm water runoff, and the risks such hazards pose to municipalities and state assets in New Hampshire.

As part of its Living Coasts Program, The Cooperative Institute for Coastal and Estuarine Environmental Technology (CICEET) announced in January 2009 that it had awarded $1,212,000 to researchers working in North Carolina and New York who are evaluating the costs and benefits of different approaches to erosion prevention in sheltered coastlines. Each project is focused on understanding the environmental and economic tradeoffs of alternative erosion control measures.

New Hampshire's Plan for How to Address Existing and Potential Climate Change Impacts was released in March 2009. Complete Report.

New Hampshire is a member of the StormSmart Coasts Network, which is a place for coastal decision makers to find and share the latest information on protecting communities from storms, floods, sea level rise, and climate change.

New Hampshire's Coastal Viewer is an online mapping tool that brings coastal resources spatial data, hazards-related spatial data, and other spatial data sets within NH's 42 coastal watershed communities together in one place. Users can search for available data sets; display the data sets in multiple ways; and create, print, and share customized maps. Overall, the goals of the Coastal Viewer are to serve as a one-stop shop for all coastal resources and hazards-related spatial data in NH's coastal watershed; to improve access to new and existing spatial data sets; and to provide information about coastal resources, hazards, and opportunities to reduce risk from these hazards and increase coastal resiliency.

The Coastal Viewer was developed by NH GRANIT as part of the Resilient NH Coasts project, which was coordinated by the NHDES Coastal Program and awarded funding in a competitive process by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office for Coastal Management. The overall project, completed in the spring of 2015, sought to help municipal leaders, community members, and business owners identify and understand coastal resources and hazards as well as ways to reduce vulnerability to these hazards. Visit the project website for more information.

Climate Change Adaptation


With only 18 miles of Atlantic Ocean coast, the New Hampshire shoreline is distinguished as the shortest of all U.S. ocean-bordering states. Despite its small size, the area’s population swells with residents and tourists during the summer months, boosting local economies and businesses. The State’s coastal zone also comprises part of an extensive wetland ecosystem, and provides important habitat for migrating water fowl. The State has proven fairly progressive in terms of both climate change mitigation and adaptation, completing its Climate Action Plan in 2009 and currently in the process of developing a State Adaptation Plan. New Hampshire’s adaptation efforts also benefit from in-depth pilot studies conducted in the Town of Seabrook and the City of Keene, both of which are utilizing comprehensive adaptation framework to most effectively respond to climate change impacts. And although coastal setbacks and zoning policies do not explicitly incorporate sea-level rise, numerous initiatives at both the state and local level are underway and continue to enhance the State climate change response efforts. Owing to its relatively small coastal zone, New Hampshire is uniquely situated to adapt to climate change, and already benefits from extensive LiDAR mapping and inundation studies. It is recommended, however, that the State work to consolidate these efforts into a single, user friendly portal, easily accessible to coastal managers and planners. The State should additionally continue to expand its educational and outreach tools, and push for legislative changes that will force coastal management to account for sea-level rise and climate change impacts.


In July 1999, the New Hampshire Legislature enacted SB 159, establishing the New Hampshire Voluntary Greenhouse Gas Reduction Registry. The Registry was, and is, intended to quantify and submit greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction actions to a state database for safekeeping against some future federal requirements. Developed through a collaborative of business, government, and environmental leaders, this voluntary approach promotes early reductions in GHG emissions by encouraging stakeholders to submit annual reports of their greenhouse gas emissions, emission reductions, and sequestration activities. The Program provides a means for voluntary reporting that is complete, reliable, and consistent. Rules were recently promulgated under the New Hampshire Code of Administrative Rules, Chapter Env-A 3800 (Voluntary Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions Registry). Along these same lines, New Hampshire has also become a member of The Climate Registry, a voluntary GHG reporting initiative among North American states, territories, and provinces.

In December 2001, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services released The Climate Change Challenge: Actions New Hampshire Can Take to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Crafted with input from a wide variety of stake holders, the Challenge identifies over 70 recommendations that can be implemented by individuals, businesses and government through a combination of voluntary and regulatory approaches. The report opens by detailing the science behind climate change and explaining how climate change is expected to impact New Hampshire. Section 1.3.6 describes the potential impacts from climate change on New Hampshire’s seacoast, including mention of sea-level rise, increased flooding, and inward migration of marine habitats. Primarily a climate change mitigation guidance document, the Challenge lists numerous GHG emissions reductions strategies specific to New Hampshire’s various economic sectors.

In December 2007, Governor Lynch issued Executive Order Number 2007-3, establishing New Hampshire’s first Climate Change Policy Task Force. Charged with developing a Climate Action Plan for the State, the Task Force submitted The New Hampshire Climate Action Plan to the Governor in March 2009. Six technical and policy working groups, operating under the Task Force, collaborated to set forth a comprehensive framework for New Hampshire’s climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts. Recognizing the serious social and environmental implications of climate change, the Task Force recommended that New Hampshire strive to achieve a long-term reduction in GHG emissions of 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, and a mid-term goal of reducing GHG emissions 20% below 1990 levels by 2050. In order to meet these lofty reduction goals, the Task Force identified ten overarching strategies that are supplemented by 67 sector-wide recommended actions. In addition to mitigation strategies, the Plan also advocates the development of an integrated education, outreach, and workforce training program, in addition to the creation of a State Adaptation Plan. For more information on the State Adaptation Plan, see below.

New Hampshire is a member of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a nine-state cooperative effort aimed at implementing a regional mandatory cap and trade program in the Northeast and Mid Atlantic that addresses CO2 emissions from power plants. As the first mandatory market-based program to reduce carbon emissions in the U.S., the program will cap regional power plan CO2 emissions at approximately current levels from 2009 through 2014, and reduce emissions 10% by 2019. New Hampshire has taken steps to implement the goals set forth in the Initiative, and continues to work towards meeting high CO2 emission standards. In 2008, with the adoption of House Bill 1434, the State established a cap-and-trade program for CO2 emissions, in addition to an energy conservation and efficiency board. For more information concerning New Hampshire’s initiative involvement, see:

In February 2011 the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted 246 to 104 to take a giant step backwards by supporting HB 519 which would repeal participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which has cut greenhouse and other pollution and created 1,130 jobs as a result of energy efficiency benefits.

The State maintains an official climate change website, largely dedicated to New Hampshire’s climate change efforts. The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services also sponsors a Climate Change Program website that provides more details concerning climate change science and how climate change will affect New Hampshire. The site has links to various climate change publications, greenhouse gas reductions initiatives, outreach and educational tools, and includes an overview of the State’s Climate Action Plan.


In March 2009, as part of New Hampshire’s Climate Action Plan, the state’s Climate Change Policy Task Force Adaptation Working Group Released Plan for How to Address Existing and Potential Climate Change Impacts. Although representing only a preliminary adaptation framework, the Plan acts as an important first step towards development of a comprehensive climate change adaptation strategy. The Task Force recognized accelerated sea-level rise, extreme coastal flooding, and increased incidence of coastal storms as major climate change impacts likely to affect New Hampshire’s coastline. With regards to adaptation initiatives, the Task Force noted:

There is a general lack of urgency for planning for adaptation to climate change. This Plan should provide the necessary education and information to keep New Hampshire moving in a proactive manner as we continue to face developing climate change impacts.

The Task Force therefore urges New Hampshire to take immediate action to incorporate sea level rise and climate change into coastal planning frameworks. When considering coastal impacts specifically, the Task Force recommends the State:

  • Analyze the environmental consequences of shore protection.
  • Promote shore protection techniques that protect habitat.
  • Identify land use measures to ensure that wetlands migrate inland as sea level rises in some areas.
  • Engage state and local governments in defining responses to sea-level rise.
  • Educate decision-makers about the importance of changing zoning regulations.

In promoting climate change resiliency in general, the Task Force recommends New Hampshire:

  1. Develop a Climate Change Adaptation Plan for the State of New Hampshire
  2. Develop and distribute critical information on climate change
  3. Promote policies and actions to help populations most at risk
  4. Charge and empower public health officials to prepare for climate change
  5. Strengthen protection of New Hampshire’s Natural Systems
  6. Increase resilience to extreme weather events
  7. Strengthen the adaptability of New Hampshire’s economy to climate change

Within each of these seven overarching recommendations, the Task Force identified key components and actions that will help guide the adaptation process. In formulating the above recommendations, the Task Force also considered economic costs and benefits, implementation mechanisms and barriers, complimentary policies, and acceptable timeframes. For more detailed information regarding these recommendations, see Chapter 3: Adapting to a Changing Climate, Chapter 5: Summary of Actions and Implementation, and Appendix 4.9: Plan for How to Address Existing and Potential Climate Change Impacts. A final State Adaptation Plan will be released in the near future.

The New Hampshire Coastal Adaptation Workgroup (NHCAW) is a collaboration of 16 organizations working to help communities in New Hampshire's coastal watershed prepare for dealing with the effects of unusual and extreme weather events and other effects of long term climate change. NHCAW provides communities with education, facilitation and technical guidance. Their website provides links to documents and presentations from workshops conducted from 2010 to the present. More than 100 stakeholders gathered at the N.H. Shoreline Management Conference in Portsmouth on Dec. 11, 2014, to discuss techniques that the state’s coastal communities can use to adapt to sea-level rise, storm surge and increasing flooding events.

In March 2016 the NH Coastal Risk and Hazards Commission full draft report and recommendations, Preparing New Hampshire for Projected Storm Surge, Sea-Level Rise, and Extreme Precipitation, were issued for public review and comment. The report is available for download at More info.

On Aug. 21, 2013 Gov. Maggie Hassan signed Senate Bills 163 and 164, landmark environmental legislation sponsored by State Senator David Watters. The Coastal Risk and Hazards Commission, established by Senate Bill 163, will recommend legislation to prepare for projected sea level rise and other coastal and coastal watershed hazards such as storms, increased river flooding, and storm water runoff, and the risks such hazards pose to municipalities and state assets in New Hampshire.

New Hampshire’s current coastal management regulations can also, to an extent, be applied to climate change adaptation. Development and various use activities along New Hampshire’s waterways are regulated largely through the State’s Comprehensive Shoreland Protection Act (CSPA) (1994). The standards of the CSPA are designed to ensure that development within the protected shoreland occurs in a manner that protects water quality. In order to do so, the Act establishes a series of setbacks and areas of restricted use, as measured from a baseline Reference Line. For open-ocean coastline, the Reference Line is demarcated by the highest observable tide line. From this line, a series of three, overlapping zones are established:

  1. Waterfront Buffer: Ranges from 0’-50’ from Reference Line and, among additional stipulations, establishes a 50’ primary structure setback (as measured from the Reference Line).
  2. Natural Woodland Buffer: Ranges from 0’-150’ from Reference Line and requires a certain percentage of woodland area to remain free of impervious surfaces.
  3. The Protected Shoreland: Ranges from 0’-250’ from the Reference Line and, among other construction restrictions, requires permits for most new construction, excavation, and filling activities.

Unfortunately, these lines are not determined using erosion rate-based calculations, and therefore do not explicitly account for future sea level rise. As sea levels rise, however, these zones will gradually migrate landward in accordance with the location of the highest observable tide line. Additionally, while LiDAR data is available for the entire New Hampshire coastline, it is unclear if extensive erosion data has been obtained. In order to protect coastal communities in the future, it is therefore recommended that New Hampshire explicitly incorporate sea-level rise into its coastal management policies, and consolidate coastal data and mapping projects into a single, comprehensive online portal.

In 1987 The Office of State Planning published a Technical Report: Rise in Sea Level and Coastal Zone Planning. The Report recommends a three-step process factoring sea level rise into coastal planning. Briefly, these recommendations include:

  1. Delineate impacted areas;
  2. Inventory potentially affected populations, assets, resources; and
  3. Develop regulatory and legislative responses.

Based on the recommendations presented in the Technical Report, the Rockingham Planning Commission released a Preliminary Study of Coastal Submergence and Sea Level Rise in Selected Areas of New Hampshire in 1991. The Study describes the phenomenon of sea-level fluctuation, examines various projections, and identifies potentially threatened areas. Included are general suggestions for managing coastal areas under uncertain, but likely, increased rates of sea-level rise. The Study stresses the importance of immediate action, and anticipating impacts in advance so as to minimize both costs and environmental damage, stating:

Some of the most cost-effective solutions to property losses that could arise take several decades to implement. Future dislocations of development can be greatly lessened by directing development away from areas that lie within the range of likely sea level rise.

The Report warns that, in light of rising sea levels, the fate of coastal wetlands is likely to be severely compromised, due to the fact that 1) sea-level will rise too rapidly for wetlands to keep pace in their upland migration and/or 2) development adjacent to wetlands will effectively prevent migration if landowners erect hard structures such as bulkheads to protect their properties. As there is little coastal managers can with regards to the first problem, the Report therefore proposes that the issue of wetland migration will be addressed mainly by coastal land use regulations. Suggested regulations include:

  • Acting now to limit future development in areas where wetlands are likely to migrate
  • Allowing development in sensitive areas only on the condition that no attempt will be made to protect the property from advancing wetland
  • Modifying the federal flood to greatly discourage/disallow reconstruction of structures damaged as a consequence of sea level rise.

Overall, however, the Report does emphasize the fact that preventative planning will be both more effective in minimizing losses of natural resources and cheaper than after-the-fact regulations. For more information see the 1995 publication from the State of Maine, titled Selected State/Regional Policy Responses to Accelerated Sea-Level Rise and Coastal Erosion and Rockingham Planning Commission, Preliminary Study of Coastal Submergence and Sea Level Rise in Selected Areas of New Hampshire (1991).

In 2009, the New Hampshire Coastal Program funded a study by the Rockingham Planning Commission and the Town of Seabrook to assess risks for flooding based on projected rise in sea level. The Town of Seabrook Adaptation Study identified and recommended strategies and methods to protect areas of increased risk, and in doing so, provided a critical planning tool to guide the Town’s future development. In order to model projected elevated sea level for Seabrook, the Study obtained accurate and detailed digital elevation data through a combination of 1998 and 2007 USACE LiDAR mapping projects. Using this data, a series of 5 coastal maps were created depicting flood hazard zones, storm surge inundation, coastal areas at an elevation of 15 feet and below, and town owned lands in flood prone areas.

The Final Report set forth a list of both regulatory and non-regulatory recommendations to help Seabrook adapt to rising seas and increased incidence of coastal storms. Primary among these recommendations was the suggestion that Communities review and revise regulatory and non-regulatory programs to accommodate the expected base rate of 2 to 5 foot rise in sea level by 2100. Building upon this premise, the Report additionally recommends:

  • Incorporating climate change/sea level rise impacts into all basic planning, zoning, and permitting. Assessments should utilize a minimum of a 50 year planning horizon and assume a 1.5 feet sea level rise in that period, and at least a 3 to 5 feet sea level rise of over 100 years.
  • Establishing a comprehensive planning and zoning policy such as development setbacks and limits on density and infrastructure in coastal and transitional zones to consider vulnerability to sea level rise and saltwater intrusion.
  • Establishing new street grade and building first floor elevation requirements and infrastructure elevation that exceed current Town, State and FEMA standards.
  • As much as possible, locating future development, infrastructure and essential facilities outside coastal or flood hazard prone areas using projections of sea level rise to identify those areas.
  • Defining a transitions zone between the hazard area and built area to be protected and prohibit incompatible land uses that would convert open land in the transition zone.

Recognizing that the Town of Seabrook’s Master Plan lacks consideration of the threat of climate change or sea level rise, the Study also suggests the Planning Board incorporate statements related to climate change within their master plan goals and objectives, helping Seabrook develop effective policies related to the various threats that climate change may pose. Among other actions, the Report additionally encourages the Town to increase funding and resources for land acquisition, permanently protect undeveloped coastal areas, and develop a Natural Hazards Chapter for the Town’s Master Plan. For the full Report, see Adaptation Strategies to Protect Areas of Increased Risk from Coastal Flooding Due to Climate Change: Seabrook, NH.

In March 2010, the Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership completed an assessment of culvert vulnerability, the Oyster River Culvert Analysis Project (PDF). The study assessed the capacity of present stormwater infrastructure for conveying expected peak flow resulting from climate change and population growth. The project transferred climate model projections to the culvert system in a form understandable to planners, resource managers, and decision-makers, and estimated future required capacities and replacement costs.

By the end of 2014, the town of Exeter is expected to have the most rigorous climate change adaptation plan on the Seacoast. Through a $683,472 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the University of New Hampshire and Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve are working with the town to develop a plan based on Exeter's perspectives using hydraulic and hydrologic modeling and climate change scenarios. In addition, Exeter is already focusing on some of the areas this study will highlight, such as stormwater runoff, non-point source pollution and flood projections. The study will also look at how climate change may impact the Squamscott River and its ecosystem. The planning project began in September 2012 and since then planners have met with town officials and community members to discuss their views on climate change. The town hopes to hold a public meeting on the project during summer 2013. More on Exeter's progress in developing a climate change adaptation plan.

In April, 2000, the City of Keene, New Hampshire took a major step in the realm of climate change adaptation by joining the Cities for Climate Protection Campaign (CCP), an initiative sponsored by the ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability. As a participating member, the City developed a Local Action Climate Plan to identify ways to reduce the community’s GHG emissions, setting reduction goal of 10% below 1995 levels by 2015. Thus far the City has worked to develop processes and implement projects to ensure the goal is met. In addition to the City’s commitment to mitigation, local officials and planners also recognized the crucial need to adapt to climate change. The City has thus undertaken an extensive adaptation initiative, with ICLEI’s support, specifically designed to assess the community’s vulnerability to climate impacts and establish a methodology to most effectively respond to them. As a pilot “Climate Resilient Community”, the City is developing a “Milestone” process focused on increasing the resiliency of the built, natural, and social systems. Within these three systems, the City has identified five key milestones to creating a climate resilient community, including:

  1. Initiating a Climate Resiliency Effort
  2. Conducting a Climate Resiliency Study
  3. Developing a Climate Resilient Action Plan
  4. Implementing a Climate Resilient Action Plan
  5. Monitoring, Motivating, and Re-evaluating the Plan

The report Keene, New Hampshire – Adapting to Climate Change: Planning a Climate Resilient Community identifies goals and targets within these Milestones that the city government can pursue to create a more resilient community, and further proposes how Keene can move forward in implementing the Plan and other climate change goals. The necessity of adaptation plans is emphasized throughout the document, with authors observing:

“…[there is] a critical opportunity—and need—to start preparing today for the impacts of climate change, even as we collectively continue the important work of reducing current and future greenhouse gas emissions. If we wait until climate change impacts are clear to develop preparedness strategies, we risk being poorly equipped to manage the economic and ecological consequences, and to take advantage of the potential benefits.”

Although an inland community, Keene’s adaptation guidelines, initiatives, and general perceptions concerning climate change, can act as a framework for coastal communities seeking to enhance their adaptation capabilities. For more detailed information, read Keen’s Final Report, or see the Keene, New Hampshire Climate Adaptation Action Plan Summary Report.

The study A Preliminary Assessment of Tidal Flooding along the New Hampshire Coast: Past, Present and Future (2001) examines several critical coastal issues for New Hampshire, including historic and future sea level fluctuations, shoreline migrations, and tidal flooding. The study resulted in a series of maps illustrating the historic movement of the New Hampshire coastline in response to sea level changes, low-lying coastal areas below selected tidal flooding levels, and low-lying areas below selected tidal flooding level after a two-foot rise in mean sea level. These maps represent an important coastal management resource tool, and will enable planners to better visualize the future of New Hampshire’s coastline. Furthermore, as the study concluded that a two-foot sea level rise will seriously impact New Hampshire’s coastal communities, coastal management strategies are encouraged to immediately begin adopting sea-level rise adaptation strategies.

New Hampshire’s Department of Environmental Services Coastal Program maintains a website dedicated specifically to Coastal Hazards and Adaptation. New Hampshire is also currently working to become part of NOAA StormSmart Coasts.

In summer 2011 the US EPA’s Climate Ready Estuaries program awarded funds to the Casco Bay Estuary Partnership (CBEP) in Portland, Maine, and the Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership (PREP) in coastal New Hampshire, to further develop and use COAST (COastal Adaptation to Sea level rise Tool) in their sea level rise adaptation planning processes. The New England Environmental Finance Center worked with municipal staff, elected officials, and other stakeholders to select specific locations, vulnerable assets, and adaptation actions to model using COAST. The EFC then collected the appropriate base data layers, ran the COAST simulations, and provided visual, numeric, and presentation-based products in support of the planning processes underway in both locations. These products helped galvanize support for the adaptation planning efforts. Through facilitated meetings they also led to stakeholders identifying specific action steps and begin to determine how to implement them. Here is the Final Report summarizing this work.

Additional Resources

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.


  1. Bernd-Cohen, T. and M. Gordon. "State Coastal Program Effectiveness in Protecting Natural Beaches, Dunes, Bluffs, and Rock Shores." Coastal Management 27:187-217, 1999.

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