State of the Beach/State Reports/CT/Erosion Response
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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. Evaluation of this indicator brings attention to the states that are taking proactive roles in natural beach preservation and natural 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):
- 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.
- 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? If a state can answer 'yes' to most of these questions then its rank is high and 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 Connecticut'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
Coastal structures may be installed with a permit, if appropriate, but Connecticut policy promotes nonstructural solutions to erosion. According to the Connecticut General Statutes, Section 22a-92(b)(2)(F) and Section 22a-92(b)(2)(J) it is state policy:
- To promote nonstructural solutions to flood and erosion problems except in those instances where structural alternatives prove unavoidable and necessary to protect existing inhabited structures, infrastructural facilities or water dependent uses.
- To maintain the natural relationship between eroding and depositional coastal landforms.
- To minimize the adverse impacts of erosion and sedimentation on coastal land uses through the promotion of nonstructural mitigation measures.
- Structural solutions are permissible when necessary and unavoidable for the protection of infrastructural facilities, water-dependent uses, or existing inhabited structures, and where there is no feasible, less environmentally damaging alternative and where all reasonable mitigation measures and techniques have been provided to minimize adverse environmental impacts." 
Connecticut has no state-mandated coastal erosion setback provisions, according to Bernd-Cohen and Gordon (1999), however individual coastal municipalities have varying development setback requirements from tidal wetlands.
In December 2007 Connecticut updated its Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan to meet new Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) guidelines set forth in the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000. Flooding is the number one cause of damage and fatalities caused by natural disasters in Connecticut each year. It was updated again in 2010. Here's the 285-page 2010 NATURAL HAZARD MITIGATION PLAN UPDATE.
During Fall 2007, the DEP Office of Long Island Sound Programs initiated the Coastal Hazards Analysis and Management Program (CHAMP). CHAMP was developed through a fellowship from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coastal Services Center. The project had three components and was scheduled to be completed by Fall 2009. The first component was a comprehensive report, Coastal Hazards in Connecticut: The State of Knowledge, Policy, and Planning (2009). This report synthesizes and provides a guide to a wide range of documents and existing knowledge related to coastal hazards. Examples include Army Corps of Engineers beach studies and erosion control projects, historical storm and flood data, the State Natural Disaster Plan, the State Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan, population growth and development data, Connecticut’s legal framework and governance structure, and the latest scientific studies and information about sea level rise and changing storm activity associated with climate change.
The second component is the Connecticut Coastal Hazards Portal and Visualization Tool, a website that provides a foundation for more comprehensive coastal hazards management planning by centralizing, analyzing, and displaying information about coastal hazards and coastal hazards management. The portal will contain the State of Knowledge report described above, resources for mitigation and adaptation efforts, photo galleries, links to buoys, webcams, storm prediction centers, and a coastal hazards primer. The website will provide a mapping and visualization application that will feature two forms of inundation modeling along the coast. One model estimates relative inundation under various scenarios of sea level rise. Another model estimates the extent of inundation from storm surges associated with various hurricane or extra-tropical storm scenarios. These modeling and mapping efforts incorporate high-resolution LiDAR elevation data, allowing accurate depiction of areas projected to be flooded by sea level rise and storm surges. The storm surge modeling effort is made possible by a partnership with the University of Connecticut Department of Marine Sciences. The digital map will feature other spatial data such as aerial photography, land-use, historic shorelines, critical infrastructure, FEMA flood zones, etc.
The final project component will be an outreach initiative to educate coastal planners, municipal officials and the public about the CHAMP project and how the information it provides can help them become more aware of potential and existing hazards to their communities. More info.
The Coastal Resilience project provides a decision support platform to better inform a process for decision-making and the implementation of ecosystem-based adaptation solutions. The website provides information on What Can Be Done?, a Web mapping tool that illustrates future scenarios, and an explanation of the issue for the vulnerable coastline of Long Island Sound.
Legislation to "protect" the shoreline from future storms, as well as the compounding impact of sea level rise, passed the General Assembly in 2012. For the first time in Connecticut, sea level rise is specifically mentioned among the criteria for coastal planning, and it is scheduled to be considered in the revision to the state's Plan of Conservation and Development. Following is a detailed explanation of the key provisions of Public Act 12-101.
In 2012 the Connecticut General Assembly passed Public Act 12-101, An Act Concerning the Coastal Management Act and Shoreline Flood and Erosion Control Structures. This legislation combined a number of initiatives to address sea level rise and to revise the regulatory procedures applicable to shoreline protection, which this fact sheet describes and explains thematically. Please refer to the full text of the bill or the section-by-section summary prepared by legislative staff for more information.
New Policies Relating to Sea Level Rise
For the first time, the concept of sea level rise was incorporated into the Connecticut Coastal Management Act (CCMA)’s general goals and policies of coastal planning.To consider in the planning process the potential impact of a rise in sea level, coastal flooding and erosion patterns on coastal development so as to minimize damage to and destruction of life and property and minimize the necessity of public expenditure and shoreline armoring to protect future new development from such hazards [CGS section 22a-92(a)(5), as amended]
“Rise in sea level,” in turn, was defined in terms of published NOAA historic data, without reference to any projected or modeled increase in future sea levels [PA 12-101, section 2]. However, since the sea level rise provisions apply specifically only to the planning process, and not to regulation of shoreline structures or any other activity, municipalities are not necessarily precluded from considering any potential sea level rise or shoreline inundation scenario in their planning process. Indeed, many experts advocate the use of conservative worst-case scenarios in planning future development.
Revised Policies Regarding Shoreline Flood and Erosion Control Structures
The Coastal Management Act contains a number of strong policies encouraging the protection of natural shoreline sedimentation and erosion processes, and discouraging shoreline flood and erosion control structures (also known as “hard” structures or shoreline armoring, such as seawalls, bulkheads and revetments) except in certain specified conditions. Public Act 12-101 modified and explained several of these policies. In particular, houses built after 1980 but before 1995, and cemeteries were added to the list of uses for which erosion control structures may be authorized.Structural solutions are permissible when necessary and unavoidable for the protection of infrastructural facilities, water-dependent uses, or inhabited structures constructed as of January 1, 1995, cemetery or burial grounds, and where there is no feasible, less environmentally damaging alternative and where all reasonable mitigation measures and techniques have been provided to minimize adverse environmental impacts [CGS section 22a-92(b)(2)(J), as amended]
To further explain this section, two terms which have been integral to the interpretation of CMA flood and erosion control structure policies were defined and expanded for the first time. These new definitions offer a number of regulatory options for state and local agencies when addressing shoreline protection applications:(e) For the purposes of this section, "feasible, less environmentally damaging alternative" includes, but is not limited to, relocation of an inhabited structure to a landward location, elevation of an inhabited structure, restoration or creation of a dune or vegetated slope, or living shorelines techniques utilizing a variety of structural and organic materials, such as tidal wetland plants, submerged aquatic vegetation, coir fiber logs, sand fill and stone to provide shoreline protection and maintain or restore coastal resources and habitat; and "reasonable mitigation measures and techniques" includes, but is not limited to, provisions for upland migration of on-site tidal wetlands, replenishment of the littoral system and the public beach with suitable sediment at a frequency and rate equivalent to the sediment removed from the site as a result of the proposed structural solution, or on-site or off-site removal of existing shoreline flood and erosion control structures from public or private shoreline property to the same or greater extent as the area of shoreline impacted by the proposed structural solution. [CGS section 22a-92(e), as amended]
In effect, the new language describes a hierarchy or checklist of considerations that must be satisfied before a flood and erosion control structure can be authorized to protect one of the listed uses.
- Feasible, Less Environmentally Damaging Alternatives
- Move the house landward away from floodwaters and wave action;
- Elevate the house vertically, preferably to the highest practical freeboard, at least as high as FEMA standards require;
- Restore or create a dune or vegetated slope between the house and the water to absorb storm waves and protect against erosion;
- Create a living shoreline. “Living shorelines” methods involve restoration of waterfront habitats, often using fill to support tidal wetland vegetation, and have been pioneered in the Chesapeake Bay region.
- Reasonable Mitigation Measures and Techniques
- Upland migration of tidal wetlands can be provided by establishing a structure setback or a rolling easement to ensure that wetlands can colonize upland areas as sea level rises;
- Beach renourishment to replace the sand supply that may be adversely affected by a seawall or groin;
- Compensation for the hardening of one part of the shoreline by removing the equivalent extent of flood and erosion control structures from another part of the applicant’s site or from another site. This approach can be conceptualized as "No-Net-Increase in Shoreline Armoring."
Changes in Procedures for Regulating Shoreline Flood and Erosion Control Structures
Both DEEP Office of Long Island Sound Programs (OLISP), through its coastal regulatory programs, and municipal zoning commissions, through the coastal site plan review process, regulate shoreline flood and erosion control structures and must implement the substantive policies of the CCMA. PA 12-101 made several adjustments to the regulatory process for such structures, beginning with a clarification of standards for denial of an application:(f) In the case of any application for a shoreline flood and erosion control structure that is denied on the basis of a finding that there may be feasible, less environmentally damaging alternatives to such structure or that reasonable mitigation measures and techniques have not been provided, the commissioner or the municipal commission, as applicable, shall propose on the record, in writing, the types of feasible alternatives or mitigation measures and techniques that the applicant may investigate, provided this subsection shall not be construed to shift the burden from the applicant to prove that such applicant is entitled to approval of the proposed shoreline flood and erosion control structure or to present alternatives to such structure. [CGS section 22a-92(f), as amended]This language, which is adapted from existing provisions in the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Act, simply requires the regulatory body to suggest feasible alternatives or reasonable mitigation measures for any flood and erosion control structure applications which are denied outright on that basis. Such denials have not been common, and the regulatory agency is not required to design or pre-approve an alternative structure, but simply to suggest in writing the types of alternatives or mitigation measures that an applicant should look investigate. If an application is denied on other grounds, such as an incomplete application or a failure to demonstrate that the proposed structure is necessary and unavoidable to protect one of the four specified uses, the regulatory body is not required by PA 12-101 to propose alternatives or mitigation measures. Other new procedural provisions of PA 12-101 apply only to municipal agencies who must apply the specific CCMA provisions regarding coastal site plan reviews of shoreline flood and erosion control structures, codified at CGS section 22a-109. One provision simply states that an application must be approved if the commission finds, based on the record, that it meets the statutory criteria for approval, and the use proposed to be protected is fundamental to the site’s habitability or primary use. For municipalities that have been properly implementing the 22a-109 procedures, this should be business as usual:A coastal site plan for a shoreline flood and erosion structure shall be approved if the record demonstrates and the commission makes specific written findings that such structure is necessary and unavoidable for the protection of infrastructural facilities, cemetery or burial grounds, water-dependent uses fundamental to habitability or primary use of such property or inhabited structures or structure additions constructed as of January 1, 1995, that there is no feasible, less environmentally-damaging alternative and that all reasonable mitigation measures and techniques are implemented to minimize adverse environmental impacts. [CGS section 22a-109(a), as amended]
Moreover, PA 12-101 exempts “any activity, including living shorelines projects, for which the primary purpose or effect is the restoration or enhancement of tidal wetlands, beaches, dunes or intertidal flats” from the definition of “shoreline flood and erosion control structure.” These coastal resource enhancement projects therefore are not subject to the additional municipal procedural requirements that apply to coastal flood and erosion control structures, such as a mandatory coastal site plan review and referral to OLISP, so as to encourage waterfront property owners to prioritize resource restoration projects over structural solutions. It is important to note that all other CCMA provisions regarding coastal site plan reviews of shoreline flood and erosion control structures remain in effect, and that seawalls, groins, bulkheads, and similar armoring approaches are still strongly discouraged. Thus, it will be important for municipal agencies to ensure that shoreline projects labeled as “living shorelines” actually meet the statutory criteria for not being a flood and erosion control structure. Also, municipal regulations are not required to exempt living shorelines or resource restoration projects from coastal site plan review, to the extent they fall within local jurisdiction. It is expected that most living shorelines projects will probably be within OLISP regulatory jurisdiction, since they would involve in-water work and/or work in tidal wetlands.
Changes in State Coastal Permitting Jurisdiction
From a regulatory standpoint, perhaps the most significant change brought about by PA 12-101 was the change in coastal permitting jurisdiction for statutes governing the placement of structures, dredging, and fill in tidal, coastal or navigable waters (CGS sections 22a-359 through 22a-363f, inclusive). Through its coastal permitting program, OLISP has had direct regulatory jurisdiction over activities occurring in tidal wetlands since 1970 and/or waterward of the high tide line since 1987. Between 1939 and 1987, the state regulatory jurisdiction line for coastal structures, dredging, and fill was at Mean High Water, which also marks the boundary between private and public trust property.
Because the statute provided several methods of field-determining the jurisdictional high tide line, there were occasional disputes and even litigation over the extent of OLISP’s regulatory jurisdiction. As a result, effective October 1, 2012, the “high tide line” is changed to “coastal jurisdiction line” (CJL), which is a fixed elevation that can be derived by a surveyor in accordance with a specified methodology. In cooperation with the Connecticut Association of Land Surveyors (CALS), the CJL was developed to roughly approximate the location of the high tide line that OLISP had been using, and will be adjusted to reflect sea level rise upon the promulgation of tidal data from the next tidal epoch. OLISP has published a set of CJL elevations for each coastal town, with an explanation by CALS of the statutory methodology. It is expected that future coastal permit jurisdictional determinations will be greatly simplified and streamlined as a result of this measure.
Pilot Programs and Other Provisions
Finally, PA 12-101 contains a number of other provisions relating to sea level rise and adaptation to climate change. These include:
- Explicit mention of the rights of private property owners in the CCMA general goals and policies. Since private property rights are already constitutionally protected and considered in all land use planning and regulation, this measure simply reinforces their significance.
- A requirement that future revisions to the State Plan of Conservation and Development consider risks associated with coastal erosion caused by sea level rise, evaluate the impacts of such erosion on infrastructure and natural resources, and make recommendations for future development and infrastructure siting to minimize the use of erosion-prone areas.
- Authorization for DEEP to establish a pilot program to encourage innovative and low-impact approaches to shoreline protection, including living shorelines techniques, within available appropriations. While no funds have yet been appropriated, the Department may select certain projects for expedited regulatory approval. Here's an example of a current living shorelines project.
- Authorization for DEEP, in cooperation with other partners, to seek funds for a shoreline management study to enhance the resilience of coastal communities in the face of coastal storm hazards and sea level rise.
- Authorization for UConn and the CT State University System to develop the science and engineering capacity to support planning and management to enhance the resilience of coastal communities in the face of coastal storm hazards and sea level rise, within available appropriations. Again, no funds have yet been appropriated for this purpose.
In February 2012 House Speaker Christopher Donovan announced the formation of a bipartisan Shoreline Preservation Task Force to study and make legislative recommendations on storm impacts on homeowners and businesses on Connecticut’s shoreline. The task force, chaired by State Rep. James Albis, will also look at the impact of climate changes on efforts to preserve shoreline communities. The task force is charged with making recommendations to the General Assembly for legislation that will:
- Assist those still rebuilding and recovering from Hurricane Irene
- Develop new policies that specifically address the unique needs of shoreline and waterfront residents and businesses with respect to shoreline erosion, rising sea levels, and future storm planning.
- Make sure new policies complement legislation that may be developed regarding emergency communications between towns and the state; utility company preparedness, response and accountability; and insurance issues.
An article published at ctpost.com in January 2013 stated:
"...a state task force that studied the impact of the damage from previous storms concluded that towns along the shoreline need to adopt zoning laws accounting for rising sea levels. The report, which was released Monday, doesn't say zoning changes should make it harder to build near the water. But two members of the Shoreline Preservation Task Force say revised zoning laws ultimately will make builders, mortgage finance companies and homeowners reappraise home construction on beachfront property."
Shore Up CT (formerly known as the Shoreline Resiliency Fund) is a state of Connecticut funded low-interest loan program which provides financing for property owners in coastal municipalities located in Flood Zones VE or AE to finance or refinance property elevations. Additional retrofitting for flood protection and wind proofing activities can also be financed.
EPA has published a summary document Governments Plan for Development of Land Vulnerable to Rising Sea Level: Connecticut (2010).
Coastal Barrier Resources Act
The federal Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA), passed in 1982, was designed to "minimize the loss of human life, wasteful expenditure of federal revenues, and the damage to fish, wildlife and other natural resources" by denying federal support for everything from sewer construction to flood insurance in undeveloped or little-developed coastal areas such as barrier islands. CBRA does not restrict development in these areas, but it indirectly discourages development by denying the use of federal funds for development projects or redevelopment after storm or flood damage. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service administers this program, which identified 1.3 million acres of coastal land to be covered by the act. Unfortunately, pressure by property owners and developers in these areas has lead Congress to pass dozens of exemption bills which exclude certain areas from CBRA, thus thwarting the intent of the Act.
The Coastal Barrier Improvement Act (CBIA) was enacted on November 16, 1990. The CBIA resulted in reauthorization of the CBRA of 1982. The CBRA establishes the Coastal Barrier Resources System (CBRS) to protect areas such as undeveloped coastal barrier islands. There is a discussion of CBRA on NOAA's web site that concludes:
"Although the removal of federal funding assistance has discouraged development in some coastal barrier islands, development has continued in other areas despite designation as a unit of the CBRS. CBIA is not intended to prevent or regulate development in high-risk areas; rather the intent is to direct that federal dollars not be spent for development in these areas. Activities conducted in areas adjacent to CBRS units may adversely impact these sensitive areas; these activities are not regulated under CBIA. In addition, CBIA does not restrict the use of private, local, or state funding within CBRS units. Some coastal states have initiated legislation that limits state funding of certain projects."
A report released in March 2007 reviews the extent to which (1) development has occurred in CBRS units since their inclusion in the system and (2) federal financial assistance and permits have been provided to entities in CBRS units. GAO electronically mapped address data for structures within 91 randomly selected CBRS units and collected information on federal financial assistance and permits for eight federal agencies. GAO found multiple federal agencies have provided some financial assistance to property owners in CBRS units that is expressly prohibited by CBRA; some assistance allowed under CBRA; and hundreds of permits for federally regulated development activities within the unit. GAO recommended, among other things, the four agencies that provided prohibited loan guarantees or insurance policies to CBRS units first verify and then cancel those that are in violation of CBRA.
On April 7, 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released to the public its Report to Congress: John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System Digital Mapping Pilot Project and announced the start of a 90-day public comment period. The report, which was directed by the Coastal Barrier Resources Reauthorization Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-514), highlights the benefits of updating Coastal Barrier Resources System (CBRS) maps with more accurate and precise digital maps to better protect people, coastal areas and natural resources.
FEMA has now developed a fact sheet on CBRA. The fact sheet outlines the responsibilities and restrictions that various programs within FEMA have under CBRA.
Climate Change Adaptation
More than 60 percent of Connecticut’s population resides in the State’s coastal area, characterizing it as one of the most densely populated coastal zones in the United States. As sea level rise accelerates, and the incidence and intensity of coastal storms grows, thousands of citizens along Connecticut’s shoreline stand to be affected by climate change impacts. The fifth state to adopt mandatory limits on GHG emissions, Connecticut has increasingly become a national leader in the realm of climate change mitigation. The state fully acknowledges climate change and its associated impacts, and over the years has pursued an aggressive and proactive mitigation policy.
Connecticut has also adopted a very proactive approach in terms of adaptation, but has yet to implement concrete regulations and policies directing coastal management in light of climate change. Recent guidance documents have highlighted serious shortcomings in the State’s current coastal management strategies, and in turn have provided specific recommendations on how to overcome these adaptation barriers. And while the State lacks state-wide mandated coastal setbacks, planning agencies and governing legislation are increasingly promoting a strategy of managed retreat. In the future it will be important for Connecticut to codify these policies, and continue to actively pursue sound mitigation and adaptation initiatives.
In the last decade Connecticut has adopted an extremely proactive stance towards climate change mitigation, undertaking a number of initiatives ranging from GHG emissions reductions to carbon sequestration. The full range of these actions, however, remains beyond the scope of this report, which serves to only highlight the State’s major mitigation initiatives and strategies. For more information, and a more comprehensive list of mitigation measures, please visit the Climate Change Connecticut website.
In August of 2001, the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers (NEG/ECP) formally adopted a regional Climate Change Action Plan designed to reduce GHG emissions to a level that will stabilize the earth’s climate and mitigate negative impacts. The Plan called for a reduction in regional GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2010, 10% below 1990 levels by 2020, and a long-term goal of reductions to eliminate any dangerous threat to the climate (75-85%). In response to the NEG/ECP initiative, in 2002 the Governor of Connecticut established the Governor’s Steering Committee on Climate Change (GSC), responsible for helping meet Connecticut’s GHG reductions targets, and overseeing the direction and coordination of Connecticut’s actions on climate change. To further its efforts, the Committee subsequently convened a Climate Change Action Plan Summit, resulting in a framework designed to guide the development of the State’s Plan. Stakeholder inclusion and input proved a major component of the Plan’s development, and by 2004, stakeholders collectively released Recommendations to the Governor’s Steering Committee, a report including 55 actions to reduce GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2010 and 10% below by 2020. The Governor responded with Governor’s Executive Order 32, requiring the state to purchase renewable energy in increasing amounts, leading to 100% clean energy by 2050. The State continued to adopt various mitigation strategies, but it wasn’t until the passage of Public Action 04-252 An Act Concerning Climate Change (PA 04-252) in 2004 that Connecticut undertook a comprehensive and coordinated approach to climate change. The Act codified the previously mentioned NEG/ECP GHG goals, and further required the submission of a CT Climate Change Action Plan, mandatory reporting of GHG emissions, creation of registry, analyses of GHG emission reduction strategies, emissions inventory updates, and assessment of the results of various GHG reduction modeling scenarios.
In 2005, the Steering Committee released its final Connecticut Climate Action Plan. As one of the first states to release a Climate Action Plan, Connecticut sought to broadly address climate change from all sectors and achieve the greatest outcome. A comprehensive climate change mitigation guidance document, the Plan sets forth 55 recommended GHG reduction actions covering 5 economic sectors: transportation and land use; residential, commercial, and industrial; agriculture, forestry, and water; and electricity. Thirty-eight recommendations were subsequently designated for immediate implementation, including raising emissions standards for new cars and increasing climate change awareness among the general public, policy-makers, and other stakeholders. The Plan additionally called for the development of a State Climate Change Education Initiative, as well as the creation of a State Climate Change Adaptation Plan.
Building on the aggressive initiatives set forth by the original Act Concerning Climate Change and the Climate Action Plan, the General Assembly adopted the Connecticut Global Warming Solutions Act (PA 08-98) in 2008. The GWSA most importantly codifies the GHG targets originally identified in the Act Concerning Climate Change, in addition to requiring the establishment of a GSC Adaptation Subcommittee to study and recommend action on climate change impacts on the State’s various economic, social, and environmental sectors. In April, 2010, the Adaptation Subcommittee issued its final State Adaptation Report, titled The Impacts of Climate Change on Connecticut Agriculture, Infrastructure, Natural Resources, and Public Health. For more information on this report, see below. In 2010, the GSC also held the State’s first Municipal Summit on Climate Action, uniting over 130 municipal leaders to discuss the efforts of cities and towns to address climate change.
Connecticut is a member of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a ten 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. In response to these goals, Connecticut’s Department of Environmental Protection RGGI Workgroup held a series of three workgroup meetings in 2006 and 2007, and in January 2008, released its final set of proposed rules to implement RGGI in Connecticut. For more information concerning the proposed rules and the RGGI process in Connecticut, visit the Connecticut RGGI Workgroup page.
The State maintains an official, comprehensive Climate Change Connecticut website administered by the Governor’s Steering Committee on Climate Change, as promulgated in the State’s Climate Action Plan. This centralized Web portal details the science behind climate change, how climate change is expected to impact New England, and actions Connecticut is taking to both mitigate and adapt to a changing climate. The site also provides educational and outreach tools, links to numerous Steering Committee climate change publications and updates, and even includes a timeline of Connecticut climate change milestones. Connecticut’s Department of Environmental Protection also administers a Climate Change website, mainly detailing the State’s mitigation and adaptation initiatives.
As highlighted by NOAA’s Coastal Zone Management Program, coastal management in Connecticut represents a model success story. Throughout the State’s coastal zone, there has been a “renaissance of urban waterfront development” that has been both environmentally sound and economically beneficial to coastal municipalities. At the same time, great strides have been made in protecting fragile natural resources, preserving and encouraging water dependent activities, restoring wetlands, and providing public access to the coast. Following the “home rule” tradition in New England, coastal municipalities have most of the authority for regulating human activity in the coastal area, while the State only directly regulates private activities waterward of the high tide line and in tidal wetlands. Municipalities must conduct a “coastal site plan review” as part of the zoning, subdivision, or other land use approval process for many proposed activities within the Coastal boundary.
However, Connecticut currently has no state-mandated coastal erosion setback provisions, although individual coastal municipalities have varying development setback requirements for tidal wetlands. Construction activity is thus regulated to varying degrees throughout the coastal zone, and in many instances will likely conflict with rising sea levels and increased coastal storms. Coastal structures (shoreline armoring) are also permissible with a permit, as promulgated in the Connecticut General Statutes, Section 22a-92(b)(2)(F) and Section 22a-92(b)(2)(J), although State has increasingly encouraged the use of nonstructural erosion control measures. Nevertheless, over 70% of the State’s shoreline is privately owned and unprotected from development, and with the vast majority of this property devoted to residential uses, waterfront residential property has attained an extremely high market value (see here). In this sense, there is a high incentive among property owners to protect their shorelines from rising seas and coastal storms. Recent studies support these conclusions, and based on current state policies, have determined that shore protection is almost certain for approximately 80% of the Connecticut’s coastal zone, a higher percentage than for any other state along the Atlantic coast (see the EPA document Governments Plan for Development of Land Vulnerable to Rising Sea Level: Connecticut (2010)).
Still, the CT Department of Environmental Protection, operating under the Connecticut Coastal Management Act (CCMA) cautions property owners:
"Do not expect to obtain permits to build seawalls and bulkheads to protect your property. Structural solutions like these are not in the best interest of the public and their use is restricted under the Connecticut Coastal Management Act." (see fact sheet on flood and erosion control structures).
In contrast to protecting structures, the Department states that the goal for development is one of prevention: designing and building with appropriate setbacks to prevent the need for such structures, and states:
"Indeed, the best and cheapest way to protect any newly-built structure—and the people who live in it—is simply to locate the structure a safe distance from the water."
Thus, despite the lack of overarching coastal construction regulations, by discouraging structural solutions and directing management in coastal hazard areas so as to minimize hazards to life and property, the CCMA has adopted an implicit policy of retreat from hazardous coastal areas. Most recent coastal adaptation guidance documents are also recognizing that managed retreat will prove the only viable long-term adaptation option, and are encouraging Connecticut to adopt policies that will move development further away from the shoreline.
For additional information pertaining to Connecticut’s shoreline construction and erosion control policies, visit:
- DEP’s Living on the Shore: Shoreline Protection website
- Also see Overview of Connecticut's Coastal Management Program.
The Governor’s Steering Committee also recognized the need to adapt to climate change, and in December 2008 formed an Adaptation Subcommittee to assess climate impacts on Connecticut and develop statewide adaptation strategies (see Section 7 of Public Act No. 08-98). As recommended in the State’s Climate Action Plan, the Adaptation Subcommittee released its final report in April, 2010, titled The Impacts of Climate Change on Connecticut Agriculture, Infrastructure, Natural Resources, and Public Health. The report assesses the projected impacts of climate change on various sectors throughout the State occurring at three temporal benchmarks: 2020, 2050, and 2080. Included are recommendations for changes to existing state and municipal programs, laws, and/or regulations to enable both human and natural communities better adapt to changing climates. The Report specifically addresses the threat of sea level rise, and provides three broad infrastructure adaptation recommendations: 1) relocation to lower risk areas; 2) re-engineering to new, more protective standards; 3) implementing mitigation techniques such as watershed management to reduce flooding. More detailed evaluation of climate change risks and adaptation recommendations can be found in the final report. For additional references, see also:
- 2010 GSC Adaptation Subcommittee Workgroup Reports
- Confronting Climate Change in the Northeast: Connecticut (PDF)
As one of the most comprehensive coastal management publications to date, Coastal Hazards in Connecticut: The State of Knowledge and Management in 2009 provides a detailed overview and analysis of the State’s understanding and response to coastal flooding, erosion, storms, and climate change. In a very succinct and straightforward manner, the Report not only describes the shortcomings of the State’s current adaptation strategies and measures, but further provides specific recommendations on how to improve these limitations and overcome barriers to adaptation. Recognizing that inadequacies in coastal management policies and perspectives will only serve to impede Connecticut’s ability to adapt to a changing climate, the report notes:
The current state of knowledge of coastal hazards is more advanced than the current state of coastal hazards management…However, our knowledge of coastal hazards has yet to change the way we manage human lives and property on the coast of Connecticut.
In this regard, the Report urges Connecticut to revise its current approach to coastal management by adopting changes that will reflect the actual state of knowledge and incorporate what is already known: sea level is rising, and storms are coming sooner or later. By compiling this information into a single guidance document, the report provides coastal managers and policy-makers with a solid foundation from which it can be easily determine where, and which, necessary changes should be made. The report also identifies 5 major knowledge and data gaps ranging from outdated flood maps to lack of comprehensive erosion data. Once bridged, managers will be able to more effectively visualize sea level rise impacts and respond accordingly.
Climate change impacts, as related to coastal hazards, are addressed specifically in Chapter 6. The chapter details the science behind climate change, providing an overview of past, present, and future sea level rise scenarios. With regards to Connecticut, accelerated sea level rise, combined with land subsidence, is expected to pose significant threats to built systems and freshwater resources. In terms of adapting to these impacts, particularly accelerated sea level rise, the report wisely recognizes that retreat from the shoreline is the “only sensible long-term approach to coastal development." Unfortunately, the report subsequently observes:
“CT DEP-OLISP‘s regulatory experience at the state and local levels suggests that waterfront property owners are instead continually pushing the closer to the water. People are proposing more and bigger houses closer to the water, and more elaborate walls and structures to protect property boundaries… the prevailing assumption within the regulated community, as well as the political establishment and the judiciary, seems to be that armored shorelines are a reasonable and justifiable response to potential loss of property…”
In the short-term, the Report thus advocates the creation of state-level construction mandates and an incentive structure that rewards sound management while discouraging development in hazardous areas. Shoreline armoring is also expressly discouraged, replaced instead by non-structural erosion and flood control projects. Nevertheless, climate change will continue to impact Connecticut well into the future. Under a best case scenario, the state would implement a mandated retreat such as a rolling easement or moving setback, whereby existing development and structures would have to be moved out of the path of rising sea. While this option would allow coastal resources to migrate landward to the extent possible, it would be very difficult to achieve given the current political and legal climate. In a worst case scenario, managers would accept what may be inevitable politically, and allow all existing development to be armored at the property owner‘s expense. Medium-range options include the purchase of rolling easements or continuing to regulate waterfront sites on a case-by-case basis using existing Coastal Management Act policies. In terms of long-term management strategies, the report provides the following recommendations and insight:
- Amend the Coastal Management Act to add climate change policies. Establish the legislative principles that explicitly state retreat from the shore as the favored approach, and that private property is expected to be lost.
- Establish statewide minimum setbacks from coastal waters or resources (particularly those able to migrate), based on demonstrated/predicted SLR rates, or tied to Mean High Water (which should be amended every tidal epoch). No new permanent structures should be allowed within setback area, but as a compromise with landowners towns would be required to assess the setback area at a reduced tax reduced rate.
- Clarify the CCMA shoreline structures policies to ensure that structures are not used to protect property boundaries, but accept that existing residences and infrastructure may be armored if they can‘t be moved.
- Provide municipalities with state-level mandates and funding for long-range planning activities. Connecticut should not expect leadership on climate change adaptation from municipalities. Town governments are too busy with immediate needs and processing of applications on a site-by-site basis, and they lack the political and financial wherewithal to relocate infrastructure, acquire refugia sites or establish land-use policies that would impair waterfront property values. When the danger approaches gradually over several decades, the do-nothing option becomes attractive and even rational.
For more information regarding the Report’s findings, additional recommendations, and more detailed analysis of current management policies, visit DEEP's Coastal Hazards in Connecticut website.
The Connecticut Department of Environment Protection has developed eight initial climate adaptation fact sheets called Facing Our Future. These fact sheets detail current observations and provide some cursory recommendations for alternative approaches to foster adaptation at the local and regional level. Facing our Future: Natural Coastal Shoreline Environment Adapting to Connecticut’s Changing Climate specifically addresses climate change impacts and adaptation strategies within the State’s coastal zone. The Fact Sheet emphasizes the need for immediate action, urging Connecticut to take action to protect existing habitats and minimize/reverse the projected changes to the coastal environment. In light of the varying degree to which sea level rise and coastal storms will impact the coastal zone, it will be also necessary to consider novel adaptation approaches and strategies. Additional needs and recommendations include:
- The need for both continued and new monitoring to better quantify climate impacts and evaluate the success of adaptation strategies
- Re-evaluating the existing conceptions of property rights and regulatory authorities.
- Developing new and revised policies for establishing clear standards and encouraging sustainable and economically viable outcomes, and promoting, where feasible, managed retreat over shoreline armoring
In 2008, the CTDEP partnered with the University of Connecticut Marine Sciences Program to begin the development of a monitoring strategy to assess how climate change will affect the coastal ecoregion and coastal waters of Connecticut. The EPA Long Island Sound Study supports climate change monitoring and provided Connecticut and New York with startup funds to further the development of a strategy and fund new monitoring. In partnership with the CTDEP, the United States Geological Survey and the University of Connecticut Marine Sciences Program, funding was received from the Long Island Sound Fund to install, maintain and operate real-time recording salinity gauges on the Connecticut River to evaluate the upstream migration of the salt water wedge and the consequences for the river’s wetlands, designated as Wetlands of International Importance.
The Connecticut Coastal Program’s Assessment and Enhancement Strategy, FY 2006 - 2010, submitted to NOAA in accordance with Section 309 of the Coastal Zone Management Act, includes a strategy to develop a coastal hazards plan to guide proper siting of development and address anticipated inundation of existing structures and infrastructure. The plan will identify adaptation strategies for structures and facilities that will be inundated over time, and assess whether statutory changes will be necessary and, if so, which changes will be necessary.
The Long Island Sound Study (LISS) received a Partner Start-up Grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate Ready Estuaries Program to develop an adaptation plan for the coastal town of Groton, Connecticut. With support from ICLEI and the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), in 2010 LISS hosted a series of workshops to educate government officials on climate change, identify local vulnerabilities, and develop adaptation strategies. These workshops, representing the first steps in the effort to develop an adaptation plan for Groton, will identify specific steps that Groton (or a similar city) would need to take to adapt to climate change and which of those activities would be done on the local, state, and federal levels. More information.
In the months before Superstorm Sandy (October 2012), The Nature Conservancy and Clean Air‒Cool Planet, with local partners such as the Greater Bridgeport Regional Council and Regional Plan Association, held climate preparedness workshops using NOAA’s Roadmap for Adapting to Coastal Risk and The Nature Conservancy’s Coastal Resilience Decision Support Tool. The goal was to advance a conversation on risk, choices, and actions the community could take to reduce risks and increase resilience. The workshops integrated maps showing potential flooding from extreme events and sea level rise into a community-driven process and dialogue through which the community identified top hazards and priorities for action. Bridgeport’s top three identified hazards—coastal and inland flooding, storm surge from tropical storms and hurricanes, and rising seas and groundwater levels—were affirmed by Sandy’s impact. Despite Sandy’s punch, the community had a head start in its path to resilience. Now, as residents rebuild, Bridgeport is working to update its Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan and enroll in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Community Rating System, which offers private property owners reductions in National Flood Insurance Program premiums in return for community-wide hazard mitigation and risk reduction. Other priorities include adjusting building codes and land use policy, incorporating nature-based solutions such as marsh advancement zones and green infrastructure for managing storm water, and factoring climate change into redevelopment and infrastructure plans.
Legislation to "protect" the shoreline from future storms, as well as the compounding impact of sea level rise, passed the General Assembly in 2012. For the first time in Connecticut, sea level rise is specifically mentioned among the criteria for coastal planning, and it is scheduled to be considered in the revision to the state's Plan of Conservation and Development. Read a detailed explanation of the key provisions of Public Act 12-101.
Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) finalized the state’s Connecticut Climate Preparedness Plan in 2011. The plan – required by Public Act No. 08-98 - An Act Concerning Connecticut Global Warming Solutions – evaluates the projected impacts of climate change on Connecticut agriculture, infrastructure, natural resources and public health (2010 report) and recommends strategies to lessen those impacts. The strategies outlined in the Climate Preparedness Plan center around five basic themes:
- Intensify efforts to ensure preparedness planning;
- Integrate climate change adaptation into existing plans;
- Update existing standards to accommodate change expected during infrastructure design life;
- Plan for flexibility and monitor change; and
- Protect natural areas and landscape features that buffer potential impacts from climate change.
Building on the strategies outlined in the Climate Preparedness Plan – as well as the state’s experience with major storms of the past two years, the work of Governor Malloy’s “Two Storm Panel,” and the outreach and analysis undertaken by the General Assembly’s Climate Change & Shoreline Preservation Taskforce - DEEP is working on a number of action items to accomplish key resiliency and adaptation goals.
The DEP Office of Long Island Sound’s Coastal Hazards Analysis and Management Program (CHAMP), in addition to the State’s various Hazard Mitigation Plans and guidance documents, will also prove a useful tool for coastal managers and planners seeking to better understand and respond to coastal hazards.
Connecticut Coastal Hazards Portal and Visualization Tool is a website (currently under construction) that will provide a foundation for more comprehensive coastal hazards management planning by centralizing, analyzing, and displaying information about coastal hazards and coastal hazards management. The website includes a mapping and visualization application that will feature two forms of inundation modeling along the coast: one model estimating relative inundation under various sea level rise scenarios, and another estimating the extent of inundation from storm surges associated with various hurricane or extra-tropical storm scenarios. These modeling and mapping efforts incorporate high-resolution LiDAR elevation data, allowing accurate depiction of areas projected to be flooded by sea level rise and storm surges.
FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) are available for all communities in Connecticut, and constitute a comprehensive map of coastal areas susceptible to flooding from coastal storms. Since initial release, FIRMS, which were originally produced between 1973 – 1990, have undergoing numerous minor modifications (via letters of map change (LOMC)). However, these modifications do not reflect changes in flood hazards due to increased rates of erosion, sea level rise, or possibility of stronger storms due to climate change. Although the recent FEMA initiative (Map Modernization Program (MAP MOD)) seeks to update these maps by converting them to digital format and redraw to reflect current conditions, guidelines specifying map revisions also do not take into consideration changes in flood hazards due to anticipated changes associated with climate change. Connecticut has developed a schedule for county-by-county modernization under MAP MOD.
LiDAR elevation data is available for the entire Connecticut coast, although additional types of data input are still needed for state-of-the-art inundation and storm surge modeling (including bathymetry; inventories of flood control, observations from past storms). In order to more effectively respond to sea level rise and other climate change impacts, it will necessary to incorporate these maps into state and local management plans. These data could also be helpful in identifying low-lying lands along the coast that could sustain tidal wetlands in the future. The CTDEP has created historic shoreline information in GIS that can be used with modern shoreline maps being generated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to calculate rates of shoreline erosion. Read more about mapping (LIDAR, bathymetry) projects along the coast.
- NOAA and Connecticut Sea Grant have released Cost-Efficient Climate Adaptation in the North Atlantic, a report that looks at community-level coastal flood management and climate change adaptation best practices throughout the North Atlantic region of the United States.
- Northeast Climate Change Adaptation has information on how coastal communities from the Bay of Fundy to Long Island Sound are adapting their land use laws, infrastructure, policies, and programs to changing environmental conditions. Several case studies are presented.
- Connecticut Sea Grant
- Coastal zone management program
- Facing our Future : Adapating to Connecticut’s Changing Climate
- Connecticut: Confronting Climate Change in the U.S. Northeast
- Governments Plan for Development of Land Vulnerable to Rising Sea Level: Connecticut (2010)
- Coastal Hazards in Connecticut: The State of Knowledge and Management in 2009
- Connecticut Coastal Hazards Portal & Visualization Tool (website)
- Connecticut Sea Grant and Climate Change efforts
General Reference Documents
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 the NOAA Coastal Services Center Digital Coast website.
More recently, NOAA Coastal Services Center 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 Sea Level Rise Adaptation 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. This site includes (or links to) the material available on the agency’s Climate Change Impacts and Adapting to Change website and key reports from other government agencies.
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.
A good general reference site for coastal hazards is a Coastal Hazards website maintained the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University, in North Carolina. This site has a substantial amount of coastal hazards information, including maps, photos, and a reference list.
- Office of Long Island Sound Programs. Reference Guide to Coastal Policies and Definitions. July 26, 1999.
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