Reducing Coastal Risk on the
East and Gulf Coasts
Committee on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Water Resources Science,
Engineering, and Planning: Coastal Risk Reduction
Water Science and Technology Board
Ocean Studies Board
Division on Earth and Life Studies
NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
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NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.
Support for this study was provided by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under contract number W912HQ-09-C-0041. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organizations or agencies that provided support for the project.
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COMMITTEE ON U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS
WATER RESOURCES SCIENCE, ENGINEERING, AND
PLANNING: COASTAL RISK REDUCTION
RICHARD A. LUETTICH, JR., Chairman, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
GREGORY B. BAECHER, University of Maryland, College Park
SUSAN B. BELL, University of South Florida, Tampa
PHILLIP R. BERKE, Texas A&M University, College Station
ROSS B. COROTIS, University of Colorado, Boulder
DANIEL T. COX, Oregon State University, Corvallis
ROBERT A. DALRYMPLE, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland
TONY MACDONALD, Monmouth University, West Long Branch, New Jersey
KARL F. NORDSTROM, Rutgers, New Brunswick, New Jersey
STEPHEN POLASKY, University of Minnesota, St. Paul
SEAN P. POWERS, University of South Alabama, Mobile
DON RESIO, University of North Florida, Jacksonville
AP VAN DONGEREN, Deltares, Rotterdamseweg, The Netherlands
STEPHANIE E. JOHNSON, Study Director, Water Science and Technology Board
DEBORAH GLICKSON, Senior Program Officer, Ocean Studies Board
ANITA A. HALL, Senior Program Associate, Water Science and Technology Board
SARAH E. BRENNAN, Program Assistant, Water Science and Technology Board
WATER SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY BOARD
GEORGE M. HORNBERGER, Chair, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee
EDWARD J. BOUWER, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland
YU-PING CHIN, Ohio State University, Columbus
DAVID A. DZOMBAK, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh
M. SIOBHAN FENNESSY, Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio
BEN GRUMBLES, Clean Water America Alliance, Washington, D.C.
GEORGE R. HALLBERG, The Cadmus Group, Watertown, Massachusetts
CATHERINE L. KLING, Iowa State University, Ames
DEBRA S. KNOPMAN, RAND Corporation, Arlington, Virginia
LARRY LARSON, Association of State Floodplain Managers, Madison, Wisconsin
RITA P. MAGUIRE, Maguire & Pearce PLLC, Phoenix, Arizona
DAVID I. MAURSTAD, OST, Inc., McLean, Virginia
ROBERT SIMONDS, The Robert Simonds Company, Culver City, California
FRANK H. STILLINGER, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey
GEORGE VALENTIS, Veolia Institute, Paris, France
MARYLYNN V. YATES, University of California, Riverside
JAMES W. ZIGLAR, SR., Van Ness Feldman, Washington, D.C.
JEFFREY JACOBS, Director
LAURA J. EHLERS, Senior Program Officer
STEPHANIE E. JOHNSON, Senior Program Officer
M. JEANNE AQUILINO, Financial and Administrative Associate
MICHAEL J. STOEVER, Research Associate
ANITA A. HALL, Senior Program Associate
SARAH E. BRENNAN, Senior Program Assistant
BRENDAN R. McGOVERN, Senior Program Assitant
OCEAN STUDIES BOARD
ROBERT A. DUCE, Chair, Texas A&M University, College Station
E. VIRGINIA ARMBRUST, University of Washington, Seattle
KEVIN R. ARRIGO, Stanford University, Stanford, California
CLAUDIA BENITEZ-NELSON, University of South Carolina, Columbia
EDWARD A. BOYLE, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge
RITA R. COLWELL, University of Maryland, College Park
SARAH W. COOKSEY, State of Delaware, Dover
CORTIS K. COOPER, Chevron Corporation, San Ramon, California
ROBERT HALLBERG, NOAA/GFDL and Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey
DAVID HALPERN, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California
SUSAN E. HUMPHRIS, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts
BONNIE J. MCCAY, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey
STEVEN A. MURAWSKI, University of South Florida, St. Petersburg
JOHN A. ORCUTT, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California
H. TUBA ÖZKAN-HALLER, Oregon State University, Corvallis
STEVEN E. RAMBERG, Penn State Applied Research Lab, Washington, D.C.
MARTIN D. SMITH, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina
MARGARET SPRING, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey, California
DON WALSH, International Maritime Incorporated, Myrtle Point, Oregon
DOUGLAS WARTZOK, Florida International University, Miami
LISA D. WHITE, University of California, Berkeley and San Francisco State University
MARY (MISSY) H. FEELEY, ExxonMobil Exploration Company, Houston, Texas
SUSAN ROBERTS, Board Director
CLAUDIA MENGELT, Senior Program Officer
DEBORAH GLICKSON, Senior Program Officer
CONSTANCE KARRAS, Research Associate
PAMELA LEWIS, Administrative Coordinator
SHUBHA BANSKOTA, Financial Associate
PAYTON KULINA, Program Assistant
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Many individuals assisted the committee and the National Research Council staff in their task to create this report. We would like to express our appreciation to the following people who have provided presentations to the committee.
Holly Bamford, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Robert Banks, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Doug Bellomo, Federal Emergency Management Agency
Lynn Bocamazo, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Candida Bronson, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Bruce Carlson, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Craig Colten, Water Institute of the Gulf
Sarah Cooksey, Delaware Coastal Programs
Stephen DeLoach, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Gerry Galloway, University of Maryland
John Haines, USGS Coastal and Marine Program Coordinator
Roselle Henn, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Carl Hershner, Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences
Keelin Kuipers, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Michael Lindell, Texas A & M University
David Moser, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
James Murley, South Florida Regional Planning Council
Michael Park, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Lindene Patton, Zurich Insurance Group
Jim Pendergast, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Tom Podany, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Rhonda Price, Mississippi Department of Marine Resources
Susan Rees, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
David Rosenblatt, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
Tracie Sempier, Mississippi/Alabama Sea Grant
Michael Shelton, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Kate Skaggs, Maryland CoastSmart Communities
Steve Stockton, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Robert Young, Western Carolina University
Dan Zarrilli, New York City’s Director of Resiliency
Jerome Zeringue, Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority
Coastal regions of the United States are a desirable place to live, work, retire, and recreate. The Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts are home to major population and economic centers, port facilities, and military complexes. Current population growth in southeastern Atlantic and Gulf coastal counties is nearly twice that of the national average. However, these same coasts are subject to impact by some of the most powerful storms on Earth and the destructive potential of these events is increasing due to climate change and relative sea-level rise. High-consequence, low-frequency hazards pose a significant challenge for preemptive decision making because of a lack of personal experience that many have with these events and the probability that an event may not occur during a meaningful time horizon, which may range from a political election cycle to an individual’s lifetime. Even though, nationally, we have dealt with significant environmental impact, loss of life, economic devastation, and social disruption from several coastal storms in the past decade, it remains difficult for most coastal residents to fully comprehend the risk of living in these areas. Thus it is challenging for governmental institutions to devote scarce resources to provide protection or forego revenue-generating potential by limiting development in valuable coastal areas to address risk. This behavior is exacerbated when, as a compassionate nation, we rally each time a disaster strikes and provide resources for post-disaster recovery that far exceed those we are willing to provide to manage risk.
The population and economic growth, increase in hazards, unwillingness to proactively manage risk, and pattern of providing substantial post-disaster aid are all contributing to an increase in our risk from coastal natural hazards over time and especially our risk of major impacts due to these events. However, the relatively infrequent nature of coastal natural
hazards means that increases in risk today may not manifest themselves in major negative consequences until well into the future. Thus, in many cases we are passing these accumulating disaster-related burdens on to our children and grandchildren.
Given the existing investment, strategic importance, and intrinsic desirability of living in coastal areas, it is unrealistic to believe that we will abandon most of these areas in the foreseeable future. However, living in these areas in a sustainable manner necessitates that we move away from the current disjointed and largely reactive approach to dealing with coastal natural hazards and instead develop a more systematic, proactive approach to managing the risk associated with living in coastal areas.
This study was undertaken as part of a broad 5-year effort to provide advice to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on a range of scientific, engineering, and water resources planning issues. Two prior reports issued under this program are National Water Resources Challenges Facing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (NRC, 2011b) and Corps of Engineers Water Resources Infrastructure: Deterioration, Investment, or Divestment? (NRC, 2012a). The current study addresses coastal risk reduction, specifically focusing on reducing flood risks from coastal storm surges along the East and Gulf Coasts. This report and its conclusions are the result of diligent efforts by 13 committee members and 4 National Research Council (NRC) staff representing a diverse range of scientific and engineering expertise. The committee reviewed a large quantity of technical literature; received briefings from multiple federal and state agencies, academic researchers, and members of the private sector (see Acknowledgments); and held lively discussions in meetings that occurred five times over an 8-month period. Three meetings were held in Washington, D.C., one in Mobile, Alabama, and one in Newark, New Jersey. We are particularly indebted to Mr. Bruce Carlson who served as the liaison between the committee and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and responded to numerous requests for information and clarification during this study. During the course of the discussions and report preparation, it became clear that assessing, communicating, and managing risk in coastal areas are very challenging concepts even for a committee of experts in coastal science and engineering. I greatly appreciate the time and effort that each committee member invested in trying to understand and synthesize this complex issue and the collegiality, patience, and good humor that members exhibited throughout.
The committee and, particularly, the committee chair are extremely grateful to the NRC staff who supported this study: Stephanie Johnson, Study Director; Deborah Glickson, Senior Program Officer; Anita Hall, Senior Program Associate; and Sarah Brennan, Program Assistant. Stephanie orchestrated the study for the NRC, which was especially challenging given its rapid time line and the diverse set of issues that were involved. Her te-
nacity, deftness finding information and references, skill separating “wheat from chaff,” ability to synthesize complex subjects, and management style were outstanding. Deborah provided a very helpful complement to Stephanie in terms of her perspective on the issues and help shouldering the load associated with this accelerated study. Anita provided excellent administrative and logistical support for the meetings and production of the final report, with assistance near the end of the study from Sarah. This report would not have been possible without their collective skills and extensive efforts; I know the entire committee joins me in expressing our profound appreciation for their contributions.
This report was reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their breadth of perspectives and technical expertise in accordance with the procedures approved by the National Academies’ Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review was to provide candid and critical comments to assist the institution in ensuring that its published report is scientifically credible and that it meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The reviewer comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the deliberative process. We thank the following reviewers for their helpful suggestions, all of which were considered and many of which were wholly or partly incorporated in the final report: Brian Atwater, University of Washington; Michael Beck, The Nature Conservancy; Rudolph Bonaparte (NAE), Geosyntec Consultants, Inc.; Robin Dillon-Merrill, Georgetown University; Jenifer Dugan, University of California; Billy Edge, North Carolina State University; Gerald Galloway, University of Maryland, College Park; Charles Groat, The Water Institute of the Gulf; Jennifer Irish, Virginia Tech; Jim Johnson, Independent Consultant, Columbia, MD; Sandra Knight, University of Maryland, College Park; Mark Mauriello, Edgewood Properties; and Adam Rose, University of Southern California.
Although these reviewers provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions and recommendations nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by John Boland, Johns Hopkins University and Michael Goodchild, University of California, Santa Barbara. Appointed by the NRC, they were responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments received full consideration. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the NRC.
Richard A. Luettich, Jr., Chair
Committee on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Water Resources
Science, Engineering, and Planning: Coastal Risk Reduction
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