While some still insist climate change isn't happening, coastal communities who've been watching the rise in sea level already are girding themselves to deal with a future in which frequent flooding increasingly will become a fact of life.
The dire nature of the problem is illustrated by a report just issued by the Union of Concerned Scientists, which warns that 30 years from now, many places on the U.S. East Coast will be plagued by storm surges. Washington, D.C., for example, could see as many as 240 flood events per year, and New York City could be hit with more than 60.
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Already, we're getting a glimpse of that soggy future, notes Melanie Fitzpatrick, a climate scientist at UCS who co-authored the report.
"Several decades ago, flooding at high tide was simply not a problem," she explains. "Today, when the tide is extra high, people find themselves splashing through downtown Miami, Norfolk and Annapolis on sunny days and dealing with flooded roads in Atlantic City, Savannah and the coast of New Hampshire. In parts of New York City and elsewhere, homeowners are dealing with flooded basements, salt-poisoned yards and falling property values, not only because of catastrophic storms, but because tides, aided by sea level rise, now cause flooding where they live."
Fortunately, governments are moving to build defenses against rising waters, though the big questions are whether they'll be completed quickly enough and whether they'll be substantial enough to step the overflow.
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The New York metropolitan area has numerous anti-flooding projects now on the drawing board, thanks to the federal government's innovative Rebuild By Design program, which will provide $920 billion to make them a reality. Plans include a seawall around lower Manhattan and an elaborate system of berms, absorbent parkland and pumping stations in Hoboken, N.J., which is designed to slow flooding, absorb rising water and store it until it can be removed by pumps. Here's a summary of the projects, for which the start date hasn't yet been set.
In Washington, the Army Corps of Engineers is building a levee on the National Mall to block water from surging around the monuments and rushing into downtown, though the project is behind schedule.