UCS Study on Sea Level Rise: Alarm Bell for New Jersey

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A new study by analysts at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has revealed that the threats of sea level rise are worse than we originally thought. The study warms that nearly 170 communities in less than 20 years and as many as 670 by the end of the century will face “chronic inundation” due to sea level rise. This includes many coastal communities as well as major metropolitan areas such as Newark and Elizabeth. The UCS has allowed the Sierra Club to partner with them to release this report.

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“This report is an alarm bell going off about the threat of sea level rise to the entire planet. As a coastal state, New Jersey has been hit hard by the effects of climate change and sea level rise, including increased storm events. They list 21 communities from the Jersey Shore to rural Delaware Bayshore to our largest cities in the Meadowlands that are at risk. The study says that 40% of oceanfront communities on the East coast will face chronic flooding and possible retreat by 2100. New Jersey is second only to Louisiana in terms of chronic inundation predicated over the next century with most of this chronic flooding encroaching from the bayside of barrier islands,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

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Chronic inundation is defined in the study as “when high tide floods 10 percent or more of its usable, non-wetland area at least 26 times per year or, on average, every other week.” This information is important when it comes to creating policies for coastal and other at-risk communities that must plan for increased sea level rise and storm events. The study suggests New Jersey implement more responsible development along our coasts and flood-prone areas.

“We must be working to incorporate updated scientific data in our planning to be more resilient against future changes. Flooding and inundation are only going to become more dangerous and common, especially in our coastal communities. Places like Toms River and Lakewood that face some of the highest risk are being developed beyond capacity. We could see salt-water intrusion into our aquifers, destroying our water supply. Fish are already living in storm drains in LBI. B.L. England in Cape May could become an island and the proposed SJG pipeline going to it underwater,” said Jeff Tittel.“We may be entering the Cape Maybegone days.”

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The study identified 21 New Jersey communities that will face such chronic inundation by 2035. This includes Seaside Park and 14 more towns along the shore. By 2100, nearly 40 New Jersey communities, would be chronically inundated on half or more of their land area. For example, Moonachie is predicted to reach 55% inundation. The study also notes that: “curtailing future warming and sea level rise could spare 28 or more New Jersey communities from chronic inundation by 2060 and 45 to 73 communities—including major cities such as Newark and Jersey City—from chronic inundation by the end of the century.”

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“It’s not only coastal communities at risk either. Large cities such as Elizabeth and Newark are also threatened with inundation, putting our ports and airports in danger. Our major cities of economic commerce and growth, such as Jersey City and Hoboken, will be threatened. The American Dream mall proposed in the Meadowlands could end up being an underwater attraction. All of our state is facing the threats of increased sea level rise and flooding at an alarming rate and it could have serious consequences for our public health, environment, and economy,” said Jeff Tittel.

One of the lessons of Hurricane Sandy is weakening environmental standards and waiving protections will end up causing more damage, hurting the economy and environment. The Christie Administration has replaced beaches without dunes because they do not believe in the science of climate change. This just means the sand will wash out with the next storm.  Places where we actually had stronger protections in place fared much better during the storm. Without addressing sea level rise the frequency of severe storms, we are wasting money. Restoring natural features like stream buffers, regional storm water planning, and developing new flood storage areas will prevent further development in flood pone areas. We also need to buy out flood prone properties and mitigate our impact on climate change.

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“We must do more to protect our communities and prevent climate change. The Christie Administration closed the Office of Climate Adaptation and Mitigation, an award-winning office that worked on climate change and adaptation in areas like the Delaware Bayshore and Tuckerton. Instead of protecting us from climate change, Christie has closed the Office of Climate Change, stolen a billion dollars out of the Clean Energy Fund, crashed the solar market and refused to release the financing rules for offshore wind off our coast,” said Jeff Tittel. “If we continue to plan our communities without incorporating information about climate change, everything we build will be washed out to sea or underwater.”

Rising sea level rise and flooding is also accompanied by increased storm events. According to a joint-study between the University of Princeton, University of Rutgers, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, surge floods may become 17 times more likely in the next one hundred years. Using historical data and computer model-projects the study found that between 1800 and 2000 the frequency of Sandy-like floods has increased threefold. Using past data and predictions of sea level rise, they were able to estimate the severity of future storms and floods.

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“Storms like Hurricane Sandy have devastated New Jersey and New York and will happen a lot more frequently. We’re already seeing the effects of climate change with increased instances of extreme storm events and droughts. We’re now 17 times more likely to be hit with a major storm surge over the next century. We have so many low-lying and vulnerable areas, not just along the coast but in places like Jersey City and Perth Amboy, that would be especially at risk. Some roads go underwater every time there’s a full moon and we’re losing coastal wetlands at an alarming rate,” said Jeff Tittel.

When it comes to dealing with climate change and flooding, the Christie Administration has weakened protections and put people at risk. The DEP’s recent changes to the CAFRA and Coastal Zone Management rules will add more loopholes and waivers and weakening coastal protections.  The rules do not strengthen protections, encourage more regional planning, address climate change or sea level rise, and they do not include programs for adaptation or mitigation of sea level rise, resiliency, or natural systems restoration.   This will add more development in hazard areas and put people and property in harm’s way.

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“When the Christie Administration denies climate change they are denying our future. Under his Administration we’re seeing rollbacks to important rules. Not only has Christie eliminated protections against climate change, but he is allowing more development in areas at risk for flooding and storm surges. The Administration has created more loopholes in the Coastal CAFRA Rules to allow more development in areas vulnerable to coastal flooding and even more, to allow high density development in the most high-hazard flood areas along the coast. Under the new CAFRA rules, places like Mystic Island and Manahawkin are targeted as high-density development areas even though they go under water. The weakening of the Water Quality Management Planning rules allow sewer extensions and high-density development in many coastal and inland flood-prone areas. The Flood Hazard rules have been weakened to put more people in harm’s way when it comes to flooding while removing key protections for important waterways,” said Jeff Tittel.

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The Administration has also rolled back rules to protect wetlands and environmentally sensitive areas including the Coastal Area Facilities Act, which has opened more coastal areas to development. They have also proposed to weaken the Flood Hazard rules and the Water Quality Management Planning rules which will put more people and property at risk and lead to more water pollution impacts. These policies will leave us at risk during the next storm. Instead of taking a holistic and regional approach for resiliency, the Christie Administration has opened up more environmentally sensitive areas to development and proposed projects that will leave the area more vulnerable. Without looking at the real climate change impacts like sea level rise, and protecting our wetlands, we are still more vulnerable to the next storm.

“This report is a sobering reminder, especially with the firth anniversary of Sandy coming up, which we haven’t yet recovered from. We are not stronger than the next storm, and this report shows it. Instead of making us stronger than the next storm, the Christie Administration has made us more vulnerable. As climate disruption worsens with global warming, extreme weather, sea level rise, and droughts, the DEP’s failure to act has threatened our families and communities. He actions as Governor have left us weakened to the effects of climate change such as sea level rise and storm events. The people of New Jersey that have been devastated by the recent storms and flooding. Continuing to ignore climate change is outrageous, dangerous, and puts people at risk,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “The Governor sitting on the Island Beach State Park is a symbol of what’s wrong with New Jersey’s coastal policies. Thanks to Christie’s failure to deal with climate change, these barrier islands and beaches might disappear.”

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