Using “green infrastructure” to build climate resiliency
CBP's Climate Change Coordinator discusses how natural solutions can bolster resilience
Almost daily, the local media is reporting stories about climate change and the likely impacts to the Chesapeake Bay region, its resources and our way of life. All in all, the short story is that the Chesapeake region is facing a warmer and wetter future: one that will very likely be characterized by higher sea levels, an increase in coastal and river flooding and more intense extreme weather events, such as Nor’Easters or tropical storms.
Recognizing the need to gain a better understanding of the likely impacts as well as potential management solutions for the watershed, a new goal was added to the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, committing the Chesapeake Bay Program partnership to take action to: “increase the resiliency of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, including its living resources, habitats, public infrastructure and communities, to withstand adverse impacts from changing environmental and climate conditions.” To achieve this goal, Bay Program partners are now working together to formulate plans and undertake targeted efforts to monitor and assess the trends and likely impacts of a changing climate, and to implement restoration and protection projects to enhance the resiliency of the larger ecosystem.
You might be asking yourself, what does “resiliency” mean, particularly in the context of climate change planning in the Chesapeake Bay? Although it is not a new word per se, resiliency is a fairly recent term in fields of hazard and disaster planning, as well as climate change preparedness. Building off one of the more common definitions of “resilience” from the National Research Council, it essentially means to plan and prepare for, reduce and absorb the impacts of, recover from, and more successfully adapt to adverse effects of changing environmental, economic and social conditions.
The management strategy for Climate Resiliency, released in June 2015, serves as the climate planning and preparedness guide for the Chesapeake Bay Program partnership. The strategy is founded upon a number of the resiliency principles listed above, particularly with respect to pursuing specific actions to successfully adapt to anticipated future adverse changes. A growing interest among the partnership in this regard is the promotion of natural or “green infrastructure” solutions to protect coastal communities from impacts associated with sea level rise and coastal storms.
The use of natural and other green infrastructure techniques, including living shorelines, beach nourishment, forested buffers, bay islands and tidal wetlands, is a move away from the use of more traditional structural shore protection practices such as groins, breakwaters, seawalls and bulkheads. Natural solutions such as these can dampen and absorb wave energy and attenuate coastal flood waters, increasing the resiliency of a coastal community while also offering valuable ecosystem benefits, such as nursery grounds and habitat for near shore species. It’s a win-win solution for coastal communities as well as the Bay.
To learn more about climate change in the Chesapeake Bay region, visit our Learn the Issues: Climate Change page. To find more information on the Chesapeake Bay Program’s climate resiliency planning efforts or to sign up for our topical newsletter, Chesapeake Resiliency, visit the Climate Change Workgroup page.
Written by Zoe Johnson, Climate Change Coordinator for the Chesapeake Bay Program.
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