TCS Coastal Connections Discusses Coastal Storms and Community Resilience

By Ellis Kalaidjian and Ashley Gordon

Coastal communities are experiencing more intense storms under a changing climate—this past Atlantic hurricane season was the third most active in recorded history, hosting one of the five costliest hurricanes to impact the US. Future storm impacts are predicted to be exacerbated by continued sea-level rise and population growth along coastlines, combined with climatic changes breeding favorable environmental conditions for the development of more frequent intense storms. Building coastal community resilience is thus continually placed on local, state, and federal agendas, and it served as the subject of the Coastal Society’s (TCS) Coastal Connections session, held on October, 21, 2021. A recording of the session is available here.

TCS President, Steve MacLeod, initiated the session by familiarizing attendants with TCS and the Coastal Connections web series and then inviting attending Board Members to introduce themselves. The session was moderated by Kim Grubert, Project Consultant on the Sustainability, Energy, and Climate Change team at WSP USA, Inc. and TCS Chapters Committee Co-Chair. Presentations were then given by the following panelists: Erik Heden, Warning Coordination Meteorologist at the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Newport/Morehead City, NC, and Jill Gambill, Coastal Resilience Specialist at University of Georgia Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

Erik Heden provided an overview of the National Weather Service’s (NWS) extensive community outreach initiatives. NWS organizes hurricane outlook talks with core partners that provide information on potential hurricane impacts. During Hurricane Preparedness Week in May, NWS conducts outreach that includes messaging related to developing an evacuation plan, assembling a disaster supply kit, and getting flood insurance (more information is available at NWS also organizes outreach talks for schools and community groups that offer safety information related to rip currents, floods, lightning, and hurricanes. Mr. Heden also touched on the efforts of the NWS Newport/Morehead City office, which coordinates with NC Sea Grant to provide information related to sea-level rise and potential impacts. Specific outreach requests include providing talks for military professionals related to hurricane preparedness and outreach booths at community events. New outreach efforts include NWS hurricane community forums (in-person and virtual) that focus on sharing key preparedness messages and the Weather Ready Nation Ambassador program to support community engagement. NWS Tropical SKYWARN and Integrated Warning Team training are also available. For more information on flood risk and outreach efforts, visit

Jill Gambill discussed NOAA Georgia Sea Grant’s efforts related to coastal resilience planning for coastal storms and sea level rise. In coastal Georgia, more than 10 inches of sea-level rise has been measured at the NOAA Fort Pulaski tide gauge since 1935. Tide gauge data supports that the frequency and magnitude of flooding in coastal Georgia are increasing, and the regional rate of sea level rise is accelerating. Sea Grant is working to increase community capacity and mitigate risk to natural hazards. Current Georgia Sea Grant efforts include diversifying their workforce, progressing equitable access to resources and decision-making processes, and seeking community input on communicating flood risk. Georgia Sea Grant, with funding from NOAA’s Weather Program Office and in collaboration with the NWS, is developing virtual reality simulations of structural flooding from storm surge. The platform also provides methods to explore the benefits of different mitigation measures, such as elevating a home or purchasing flood insurance. Ms. Gambill also highlighted the importance of considering environmental, economic, and social benefits of community projects and provided an example of urban tree restoration efforts in Savannah that have multiple benefits of flood reduction, heat reduction, workforce development, and youth engagement.

To continue the TCS discussion of climate change challenges for coastal communities, our next Coastal Connections session will be focused on sea level rise. The Coastal Connections discussion will be held on Wednesday. March 30th from 3-4pm Eastern. Join us to learn about trends in sea level rise, considering recent data in comparison to the geological record, and participate in a discussion about sea level rise impacts on coastal resources and general mitigation approaches. Featured speakers include:

  • John Englander, Oceanographer/Author
  • Molly Mitchell, PhD, Research Assistant Professor at Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Following presentations, attendees will have the opportunity to ask questions and share their own expertise in a moderated discussion. To participate in this free event, please register on Eventbrite at the following link:

Coastal News from the Field: Rethinking the Future of Coastal Management

By Ellis Kalaidjian

The year 2021 is over. As we begin 2022 and reflect on 2021, coastal hazards continue to escalate under a changing climate. This past Atlantic hurricane season was the third most active ever recorded and hosted one of the five costliest hurricanes to impact the US, for example. Coastal communities are experiencing more intense storms and planning for sea-level rise to build community resiliency (recording available on this topic from the last TCS Coastal Connections session). Needless to say, the challenges facing coastal management communities are numerous and mounting. As we approach the new year, we must ask ourselves: “How, if at all, are we adapting our coastal management institutions and approaches to meet the constantly-evolving problems we face?”. Duke University’s Dr. Michael Orbach and the University of Washington’s Dr. Marc Miller explore this prudent question in their essay, entitled How Have the U.S. Coasts Changed (and How Are They Going to Change) as Cultural and Policy Spaces? An Example from California, published in December 2021 in the Journal of Coastal Management.

This essay first explores the theoretical concepts of policy and cultural spaces that exist within the coastal zone. As the authors explain, a policy space is a space (geographical, temporal, historical) where societal actions and behaviors are structured by legislation and political activities that directly reflect the values of policymakers and their constituents. A cultural space is a space that is structured by people who are members of a culture—which is defined in terms of shared knowledge and values and “consists of what it is that people know to [coexist with one another]” (p. 4)—in a way that reflects that culture. Both spaces are dynamic; they have lifespans; they are controlled by, among other things, the environment and politics; and they influence each other in often unpredictable ways.

To illustrate these concepts and their interrelatedness, the authors examine the policy and cultural spaces of coastal California over the last 50 years. Prior to World War II, Californian coastal cultures were made up of small, financially modest populations, and existed within intimate, “cozy” landscapes. The authors describe Californian coastal life as slower-paced and “…driven by sea- and coast-dependent industries and interests such as fishing, coastal recreation and tourism, and notably…the proto-typical ‘California Lifestyle’.” (p. 6), which the authors view as being influenced by the “cool, laid-back and casual and free-wheeling” (p. 6) surf culture of the 60s. However, massive economic development and human settlement following WWII changed the cultural space to one that was “…much more dependent on leisure-tourism and other industries such as major universities, aero-space and high-tech.” (p. 6) and inhabited by a more cosmopolitan population.

Changes in coastal Californian political spaces followed in response to the development pressures of the Post-WWII period. The 1970s witnessed a proliferation of federal environmental legislation, such as the passage of the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA), which induced the birth of state coastal management agencies such as the California Coastal Commission and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like the Coastal Management Conference and The Coastal Society. Yet, today, development and political pressures have stymied coastal management in California (and other coastal states) and have overwhelmed the limited resources of coastal public policy and management entities. In the authors’ words: “The special policy space of coastal policy and management as a profession—as with the special cultural space of the coast—has become overshadowed by and submerged in other events and processes.” (p. 8). Corresponding changes in the coastal zone have resulted—for example, the amount of armored coastline in California increased from 26 miles in 1971 to 146 miles in 2018.

The authors conclude the essay with an assessment of future coastal management challenges presented by climate change hazards such as sea-level rise, increasingly frequent severe storms, and so forth. Encroaching sea levels will render certain coastal locales inhabitable, requiring communities and governments to engage in adaptation and planned retreat activities, which will signal the reinvention of coastal cultures and policies. New coastal cultures and management policies will be in a constant state of change and development with continued sea-level rise, which presents uncertainty and challenges unlike the cultural forces at play during the post-WWII period (economic expansion and the environmental movement). In closing, the authors offer coastal management practitioners the following recommendations:

  1. Climate change solutions should draw on expertise beyond that of the usual natural and social sciences, planning, and engineering—for example, the ideas of the humanities, such as environmental philosophy, and professional fields, such as business and activism;
  2. Adaptive management and conflict management strategies in coastal zone management should be revised to include more robust stakeholder engagement and a commitment to social equity and environmental justice; and
  3. Coastal management activities of monitoring natural and social systems and predicting future human impacts should incorporate insights from architects, engineers, and urban designers regarding the planning and future design requirements of adaptation.


Orbach, M. K., & Miller, M. L. (2021). How Have the U.S. Coasts Changed (and How Are They Going to Change) as Cultural and Policy Spaces? An Example from California. Coastal Management, doi:10.1080/08920753.2022.2006873.

Disclaimer: This post does not serve as an endorsement of the author’s opinion, nor does it express the views of the Coastal Society.

Coastal News from the Field: Adaptive Management of the Indian River Lagoon, Florida

By Ellis Kalaidjian

This blog post is the first of a new monthly series, tentatively titled “Coastal News from the Field,” which highlights new coastal management/conservation-themed research that makes us tick. We are excited about this new development for the blog and encourage our readers to reach out to with any research or topics they would like to see featured in this series.

This month, we highlight a study from a research team in Florida, titled “Adaptation Actions to Reduce Impairment of Indian River Lagoon Water Quality Caused by Climate Change, Florida, USA,” as published in February 2021 in the Journal of Coastal Management. The motivation for this work comes from the increasing vulnerability of estuaries to climate change impacts of salt-water intrusion from rising sea levels, hydrological regime changes, water temperature increases, and so forth. The Indian River Lagoon (IRL) was designated as an Estuary of National Significance by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1990 and, more recently, a Climate Ready Estuary in 2008, following a collaboration between the EPA and National Estuary Program in the form of the Climate Ready Estuaries Program.

Map of the IRL watershed (Source: EPA, 2004)
Aerial view of the IRL (Source: US Fish & Wildlife Service, 2006)

The core objective of this research was to assess the vulnerability of the IRL’s management program to climate change and prescribe adaptive actions designed to improve the program’s efficacy and protect the estuary from further climate-change-induced impairment. The research team first compiled and reviewed a list of the program goals (e.g., “water quality” or “healthy communities”) within the IRL’s Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) that were most likely at risk from climate change and the associated climate stressors jeopardizing those goals. The team then weighted each risk in a matrix based on parameters of consequence, likelihood, spatial scale, and timeline. A total of 472 risks were identified. Of those, 50% were associated with impacts to impaired waters, wastewater, and surface water. Nearly all (97%) of these risks were induced by three prevalent climate change stressors of altered precipitation regimes, increasing storminess, and sea-level rise.

From here, the research team was able to identify nine adaptation actions to mitigate water quality impairment caused by climate change. Each action focused on mitigating the major sources of elevated pollutant loadings anticipated to accompany climate change, including wastewater treatment plants, on-site treatment and disposal systems, and surface water storage and conveyance infrastructure; for example, one action was to create a GIS-based inventory of vulnerable infrastructure supporting the three systems. In addition, the team devised a five-step action plan that could be used to achieve each of the nine adaptation actions and proposed an integrated management regime based on the existing symbiosis between the state of Florida and the IRL National Estuary Program.

In the face of the emerging circumstances presented by climate change, it is paramount that we continually review and adapt the programs that we have instituted to protect our coastal resources. The research highlighted in this article showcases how adaptive management—a concept based in theory—can be operationalized to satisfy long-term conservation agendas. The study also demonstrates how vulnerability assessments can be used to prioritize and continually monitor program action areas that harmonize mutual interests of a diverse stakeholder network. Most importantly, the deliverables of this applied research have direct utility for future policymaking, community engagement initiatives, program financing, and other efforts that may otherwise have been hindered without recognition of the future management challenges posed by climate change.

Parkinson, R. W., Seidel, V., Henderson, C., & De Freese, D. (2021). Adaptation Actions to Reduce Impairment of Indian River Lagoon Water Quality Caused by Climate Change, Florida, USA. Coastal Management, 49(2), 215-232.


By:  Steve MacLeod

A recent study out of Columbia Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law (Sabin Center) may help turn the tables on how projects are typically evaluated with respect to climate change under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and similar state policies. The resulting paper prepared by the Sabin Center is titled Assessing the Impacts of Climate Change on the Built Environment under NEPA and State EIA Laws: A Survey of Current Practices and Recommendations for Model Protocols (August 2015). The study calls attention to an aspect of the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality’s (CEQ) draft guidance on climate change analysis that has frequently been overlooked – namely, how climate change may affect a project. The Sabin Center paper also outlines a structured approach for analyzing climate change effects on a project, which will hopefully assist agencies in performing such analyses more consistently and effectively during NEPA reviews.

Existing Framework

NEPA requires an Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for federal actions that may have a significant effect on the environment. In addition to activities conducted by a federal agency, “federal actions” under NEPA include the issuance of federal permits or the supply of federal funds for a project. In February 2010, the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) released draft guidance for federal agencies to consider the effects of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) during their NEPA evaluations, e.g., during the review of a permit application for a project. The 2010 guidance specifically notes that “climate change can affect the integrity of a development or structure by exposing it to a greater risk of floods, storm surges, or higher temperatures.”

The CEQ draft guidance was revised in December 2014 to clarify and reinforce the 2010 draft document’s recommendations, partially in response to public comments on the 2010 draft. The CEQ’s 2014 revised draft guidance clarifies direction on when and how to consider GHG emissions, and includes references to accepted GHG quantification strategies. The 2014 revised draft guidance also reiterates that an agency should assess the impacts of climate change on the project, in addition to the more common practice of evaluating the impact of the project on climate change. However, the CEQ guidance does not clearly define how the climate change impact analysis should be accomplished. Indeed, the 2014 revised guidance acknowledges that “agencies continue to have substantial discretion in how they tailor their NEPA processes to accommodate the concerns raised in this guidance.”

The CEQ draft guidance followed President Obama’s 2009 Executive Order 13514 instructing federal agencies to “establish an integrated strategy towards sustainability in the Federal Government and to make reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) a priority for Federal agencies”. Under EO 13514 and subsequent supplemental or superseding executive orders, Federal agencies began developing strategies for reducing GHGs; for example, the U.S. Navy issued its Climate Change Road Map memo in May 2010. Since 2009, agencies have also developed strategies for assessing vulnerability of infrastructure to climate change effects; for example, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued its 2012 Climate Change and Extreme Weather Vulnerability Assessment Framework. These efforts have facilitated the reduction of GHGs and adaptation to climate change for some agency-initiated developments, which is an underlying CEQ goal. However, as with the CEQ draft guidance, these documents do not provide detailed instructions on how to analyze climate change during a NEPA review; such analysis would apply to ALL major federal actions, including the regulation of many private-sector projects.

Green infrastructure from local neighborhoods in Charleston, SC (NOAA, 2015)

The Sabin Center Initiative

In 2015, the Sabin Center conducted a systematic review of NEPA documents to better understand how climate change issues and infrastructure vulnerabilities were being addressed. The Sabin Center study found that, in the absence of a specific climate change analysis protocol for NEPA reviews, the evaluation of climate change impacts on proposed projects has been limited and inconsistent in scope. This finding was based on a review of federal EAs and EISs issued between 2012 and 2014. These results were generally consistent with a similar review of recent EAs and EISs conducted by Defenders of Wildlife in 2013. In particular, while it has become common practice to quantify GHG emissions from a proposed project, this practice only addresses one side of the coin: how a proposed project will potentially contribute to climate change. Because an EA/EIS more often considers how a project will affect the environment, the opposite approach has been dubbed a “reverse EIS” because it emphasizes the environment’s effect on the project.

Climate risk assessment in energy development and mining projects (Sabine Law Center, 2015)

Catchy term aside, CEQ notes that the justification for the “reverse” climate change analysis is rooted “squarely within the realm of NEPA… ultimately enabling the selection of smarter, more resilient actions.” As a more specific example, NEPAs purpose is, in part, to “attain the widest range of beneficial uses of the environment without degradation, risk to health or safety, or other undesirable and unintended consequences” [42 USC §4331]. For instance, risk to health or safety is clearly an issue in a case where climate change could result in sea level rise or more intense precipitation events that in turn could cause flooding of critical energy infrastructure and subsequent loss of power.

Aiming to bridge the gap between the CEQ draft guidance and routine agency action, the Sabin Center has outlined a detailed protocol for conducting an analysis of climate change effects on a project during a NEPA review. In developing its proposed protocol, the Sabin Center pulled examples from several existing documents, including policies implemented at the local, state and international levels. The study also considered certain EISs that DID incorporate a detailed assessment of climate change impacts on a project, including the EIS for the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline project. By creating a more distinct framework for a “reverse EIS” assessment, the Sabin Center’s study will hopefully help agencies improve the design of more projects through the NEPA process or similar state and local reviews, thus moving us one step closer to smarter and more resilient infrastructure development.


One aspect of a robust EA/EIS is that it employs the best available scientific and technical information. When it comes to incorporating an assessment of climate change effects on a project, an additional measure of a successful NEPA review will likely be that the lead federal agency used the best available analysis tool – something the Sabin Center has aimed to create. Integrating a “reverse” climate change analysis into NEPA documents adds a critical dimension to the thoughtful review of proposed projects that may be significantly affected by shifting environmental conditions. Such an analysis will better inform the public and improve agency decisions in developing appropriate mitigation measures to address relevant and often controversial climate change issues of concern.

About the Author:  Steven MacLeod is a TCS Board Member and is employed as an Environmental Scientist at Ecology and Environment, Inc. (E & E) in Buffalo, New York, where he consults on energy transmission and shoreline restoration projects. Steve thanks his colleagues at E & E for their contributions to this article, particularly Mr. George Rusk, J.D., and Ms. Laurie Kutina. Thanks also to Ms. Jessica Wentz, J.D., at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law for her review prior to publication.