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State Plans Climate Change Guidance For Coastal Infrastructure Projects

Annie Ropeik for NHPR

Seacoast towns are testing out a new state framework to help plan for rising seas, stronger storms and other coastal risks expected to increase with climate change.

The Department of Environmental Services is taking feedback on that framework, recently released as part of an update to state coastal risk science, through the end of this month. Officials from DES held two workshops on it this week.

In Newmarket Wednesday, local officials, engineers, state scientists and legislators thought through different scenarios – like upgrading a culvert or fortifying a wastewater plant.

Their considerations included how much risk the hypothetical project could handle – giving a hospital or major evacuation route a lower risk tolerance than a walking path, for example – as well as the severity of coastal hazards the project could face could face under different climate change models.

Those hazards include not just rising seas and tides, but groundwater intrusion, heavier precipitation, storms and winds.

State Sen. David Watters was at the workshop. The Democrat from Dover says the new system shows the challenges coastal towns will likely face as the climate warms, but it’s good progress.

“It really will serve to take something that seems overwhelming, and seems impossible to deal with, and breaks it down in a way that makes it seem possible as a routine planning document,” Watters says. “And that’s really significant.”

The state hopes to finalize the guidance for local use by next spring. It could also someday be used to write regulations that would require future coastal infrastructure to be more resilient. 

Comments can be submitted online through Sept. 30.

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.
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