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New York Sea Level Rise Task Force Report

At the end of 2010 the New York State Sea Level Rise Task Force submitted its final report to the New York State Legislature. The report details a series of findings and recommendations, although it notes that the City of New York which was a member of the task force, did not support several of the recommendations.

The summary of the Task Force findings is:
1. Sea level rise and coastal flooding from storm surge are already affecting and will increasingly affect New York’s entire ocean and estuarine coastline from Montauk Point to the Battery and up the Hudson River to the federal dam at Troy.
2. The likelihood that powerful storms will hit New York State’s coastline is very high, as is the associated threat to human life and coastal infrastructure. This vulnerability will increase in area and magnitude over time.
3. Natural shoreline features, such as wetlands, aquatic vegetation, dunes and barrier beaches, currently provide large‐scale services, such as flood protection, storm buffering, fisheries habitat, recreational facilities and water filtration, at almost no cost. These services would be prohibitively expensive to replicate with human‐built systems. New York is losing tidal marshes at a rapid pace and with them the natural infrastructure that protects the shore from floods, wave attack and erosion.
4. Sea level rise will cause all shoreline ecosystems to become more frequently inundated. Low‐lying locations will become permanently submerged. Habitats and the species associated with them may migrate landward; this migration, however, will be impeded by the density of development on much of the state’s shoreline and the widespread hardening of that shoreline.
5. Current investment and land‐use planning practices by both New York State and local governments are encouraging development in areas at high risk of coastal flooding and erosion.
6. Over the long term, cumulative environmental and economic costs associated with structural protection measures, such as seawalls, dikes, and beach nourishment, may be more expensive and less effective than non‐structural measures, such as elevation of at‐risk structures and planned relocation away from the coastal shoreline, especially in less urbanized areas. Solutions for urban areas, however, may require a mixed approach of structural and non‐structural solutions.
7. As water levels rise, sea walls, dikes and similar structures along the state’s coastline may limit public access to beaches as the publicly accessible intertidal zone is eliminated.
8. Existing maps of New York State’s coast that identify communities, habitats and infrastructure at greatest risk of flooding and erosion are inaccurate, out of date, not detailed enough for planning and regulatory purposes and fail to incorporate historic and projected sea level rise.
9. There are low‐cost, high‐benefit actions that can be taken now to reduce vulnerability along New York State’s coastline.

The recommendations were summarized as:
1. Adopt official projections of sea level rise and ensure continued and coordinated adaptation efforts.
2. Require state agencies responsible for the management and regulation of resources, infrastructure, and populations at risk from sea level rise to factor the current and anticipated impacts into all relevant aspects of decision making.*
3. Classify areas where significant risk of coastal flooding due to storms has been identified and implement risk reduction measures in those areas.*
4. Identify and classify areas of future impacts from coastal flooding from projected sea level rise and storms to reduce risk in those areas.*
5. Reduce vulnerability in coastal areas at risk from sea level rise and storms. Support increased reliance on non‐structural measures and natural protective features to reduce impacts from coastal hazards, where applicable.*
6. Develop maps and other tools required to assist local decision makers in preparing for and responding to sea level rise.
7. Amend New York State laws and change and adopt regulations and agency guidance documents to address sea level rise and prevent further loss of natural systems that reduce risk of coastal flooding.*
8. Provide financial support, guidance and tools for community‐based vulnerability assessments and ensure a high level of community representation and participation in official vulnerability assessments and post‐storm recovery, redevelopment and adaptation‐planning processes.
9. Undertake a comprehensive assessment of the public health risks associated with sea level rise, coastal hazards and climate change including compromised indoor air quality, drinking water impacts, post‐traumatic stress and other mental health problems, increases in disease vectors, impaired access to health care and loss of reliable access to food and medical supplies.
10. Raise public awareness of the adverse impacts of sea level rise and climate change and of the potential adaptive strategies.
11. Develop mechanisms to fund adaptation to sea level rise and climate change.
12. Fund research, monitoring and demonstration projects to improve understanding of key vulnerabilities of critical coastal ecosystems, infrastructure and communities from sea level rise.
13. Ensure continued and coordinated adaptation to sea level rise.
14. Seek federal funding, technical assistance and changes to federal programs to make them consistent with, or accommodating to, state policies, programs and adaptation measures related to sea level rise.
* Recommendation does not have the unanimous support of the Task Force.

-Steven Silverberg

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