As sea-levels rise and weather-related threats continue to increase, opportunities emerge for people and local governments to build “living shorelines.” These natural or nature-based structures are designed to reduce risk to communities and infrastructure from flooding and storm surge, while often providing the ecosystem benefits of habitat.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed a new category in its nationwide permitting process that would allow speedier approval of living shorelines such as wetlands with sea and marsh grasses, sand dunes, mangroves and coral reefs. The category is now open for comment, reports Scientific American. Under the guidance of the Clean Water Act, permits are required for essentially all construction activities that occur in the nation’s waters, including wetlands.
Currently, it’s much faster for property owners in many parts of the country to get a permit for sea walls, bulkheads and other so-called gray infrastructure than it is to get a permit for the construction of nature-based systems since there is an existing nationwide permit that covers some of those activities. If the Army Corps moves forward with the new category, though, permits to build living shorelines could be issued in a quarter of the time it takes under the current model.
Turning to nature to reduce the impact of severe weather
This proposal comes as data continues to highlight the financial and physical impacts of climate change and severe weather. Since 2005, five major hurricanes have caused a total of more than 2,200 deaths and some $230 billion in damages in the United States. In the past 5 years, the Mississippi and U.S. coasts have repeatedly experienced historic flooding—damaging crops, businesses and communities.
The economic implications of extreme weather events are felt across the country. Ninety-six percent of the total U.S. population lives in counties where federally declared weather-related disasters have occurred since 2010. Meanwhile, average flood losses in the United States have increased steadily to nearly $10 billion annually, driving the National Flood Insurance Program $24 billion into debt.
To counter these risks and rising costs, we need solutions that are better, cheaper and smarter. Notably, some of our best solutions are also greener. Nations, communities and businesses are re-examining natural systems and their potential to meet economic, environmental and safety needs. We are asking, increasingly: How can we tap nature’s solutions to secure and sustain safe, prosperous coastal communities and healthy ecosystems?
Living shorelines utilize a combination of structural and natural materials such as wetlands, marshes, sand dunes, mangroves or coral reefs combined with coir fiber logs, sand fill and stone. They can reduce wave intensity, prevent erosion and provide a host of other economic and environmental benefits.