Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Congress Protects Coasts from Climate Change with Mud

Ocean Beach in San Francisco was hit hard by erosion last winter. (Credit: Nick/Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
The combination of powerful storms and the sediment shortfall produced what U.S. Geological Survey coastal scientist Patrick Barnard called a “worst-case scenario” that “may be an indication of what’s to come.”  Barnard led research published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications that measured unprecedented West Coast erosion from storms last winter.

During the final weeks of Obama’s presidency, Congress passed a water infrastructure bill that aimed, among other things, to curb worsening coastal erosion.  The bill is an early bipartisan step toward reforming how the Army Corps of Engineers manages sediment scooped up while dredging for the shipping sector.

The bill was sponsored by Republicans and explicitly mentions sea level rise in a handful of places, a departure from recent efforts by some Republicans in Congress to downplay threats posed by climate change.

“What they’re hearing from their states is, ‘You guys, we have a problem here,’” said Sam Schuchat, executive director of the California State Coastal Conservancy, an agency that helps protect the state’s shores.  “If we want to complete all the restoration that we want to do in the next 20 or 30 years, we’re going to need millions of cubic yards of sediment.”

Seas are rising at a hastening pace because heat-trapping pollution is expanding ocean water and melting ice, which is already causing routine flooding in some cities.  Marshes and other natural coastal bulwarks can grow taller as seas rise, protecting against floods, but most of them need sediment-rich waters to do so.

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