As coastal flooding worsens, some cities are retreating from the waterBy A.R. Siders, University of Delaware and Katharine Mach, University of M...As coastal flooding worsens, some cities are retreating from the water
By A.R. Siders, University of Delaware and Katharine Mach, University of Miami
When the tide gets exceptionally high in Charleston, South Carolina, coastal streets start to run with seawater. Some yards become ponds, and residents pull on rain boots.
The city also gets a lot of rain. After homes in one low-lying neighborhood flooded three times in four years, the city offered to buy out 32 flood-prone town homes and turn the land back into open space that can be used for managing future floodwater. It’s a strategy coastal cities from Virginia to California are contemplating more often as tidal flooding increases with sea level rise.
Cities all along the U.S. coasts have seen high-tide flooding days increase. In 2021, the U.S. coasts are projected to see an average of three to seven high-tide flooding days, rising to 25-75 days by midcentury, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warns in its annual high-tide flooding outlook, released July 14, 2021.
Low-lying Charleston saw a record-breaking 14 days of high-tide flooding in 2020, and parts of the city count even more flood days. The city is considering new sea walls to protect against hurricanes, and other measures to try to keep tidal and storm flooding out of threatened neighborhoods. But it has also started helping resident relocate away from high-risk areas. It’s a strategy known as managed retreat – the purposeful movement of people, buildings and other infrastructure away from highly hazardous places.
Managed retreat is controversial, particularly in the United States. But it isn’t just about moving – it’s about adapting to change and building communities that are safer, addressing long-overlooked needs and incorporating new technologies and thoughtful design for living and working in today’s world.
We argue in a special issue of the journal Science that managed retreat is an opportunity to preserve the essential while redesigning high-risk areas in ways that are better for everyone.
What managed retreat can look like
U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Oliver P. Smith famously said of a retreat he led during the Korean War: “Retreat! Hell! We’re just advancing in a different direction.” Like Gen. Smith’s maneuver, retreat from climate change-related hazards, at its core, is about choosing a new direction.
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