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June 29, 2009 Meeting - Sea Level Rise Task Force

Meeting Summary

Attendance

Task Force and Steering Committee Members:

Fred Anders, NYS Department of State, Coastal Resources

Alan Belensz, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, Climate Change Office

Frank Castelli, Suffolk County, Division of Water Quality Improvement

Karen Chytalo, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, (DEC) Marine Resources

Udo Drescher, NYS DEC, Ass't Regional Counsel Region 2

Adam Freed, NYC Mayor's Office

Michael Gerrard, Arnold & Porter LLP

Alexander B. (Pete) Grannis, NYS DEC, Commissioner

Gerceida Jones, New York University

Aaron Koch, NYC Mayor's Office

Ivan Lafayette, NYS Department of Insurance

Mark Lowery, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, Climate Change Office

Jack Mattice

Suzanne Mattei, NYS DEC, Regional Director Region 2

Sarah Newkirk, The Nature Conservancy

Fred Nuffer, State Emergency Management Office

Robin Schlaff, NYS DEC, Special Counsel to the Commissioner

Jared Snyder, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, Assistant Commissioner

Lisa Weiss, NYS Department of Transportation

Conference call

Kristin Marcell, NYS DEC, Hudson River Estuary Program

Amanda Stevens, NYS Energy Research and Development Authority

Hillel Hammer, AKRF Consulting

Updates and Announcements

  • The legislation to extend the due date for the report of the task force to December 31, 2010 has passed both the Assembly and the Senate and is awaiting the governor's signature.
  • Michael Gerrard and Gerceida Jones were welcomed as the newest members of the Task Force.

Presentations on Preliminary Report

Climate Science and Sea Level Rise

Fred Anders, DOS

Note: See sections of draft preliminary report for detailed climate information which was presented to the task force for discussion at this meeting. Additional sections, maps and other information will be added in later drafts. Comments may be submitted to slrtf@gw.dec.state.ny.us Also, see Climate Science and Sea Level Rise PDF Power Point. (PDF, 788 KB)

  • Global sea level rise is caused by 1) Thermal expansion -- As oceans warm, the water expands and increases its volume, and 2) Melting -- Reservoirs of water, such as glaciers, ice caps, and ice sheets, contribute melt water to the total volume of ocean water. The amount of rise is not globally uniform.
  • Relative sea level rise incorporates locally observable differences in sea level rise due to land subsidence, isostatic rebound (gradual rise of the continental land mass since the end of the last ice age), geologic uplifting processes, and topographic influences on water circulation.
  • The coast of NYS has a higher rate of relative sea level rise than the global mean
  • The frequency of a 100-year storm event in coastal NYS is rising and will continue to rise because of sea level rise

Projections for sea level rise (adapted from NYC Panel on Climate Change):

IPCC/GCM-based method (conservative estimates "Rapid Ice Melt" scenario
by 2020s 2-5 inches 5-10 inches
by 2050s 7-12 inches 19-29 inches
by 2080s 12-23 inches 41-55 inches

Impacts of sea level rise considered in preliminary report

Note: The steering committee agreed to use definitions based on impacts, rather than causation, as these are easier to relate and because the science indicates that storm frequency intervals are already changing due to climate change.

  • Permanently inundated: either completely underwater or daily periods of submersion.
  • Frequently flooded: flooded with sufficient frequency and duration that recovery periods are required. (e.g., extreme repetitive rainfall events July and August 2007
  • Episodically flooded: infrequently and irregularly flooded as a result of extraordinary high tides, extreme precipitation events, and/or storm surges. (e.g., Long Island Express (1938), Category 3-4 hurricane, 16-20' surge)
  • Saltwater infiltration or saltwater intrusion: sea water incursion into previously freshwater environments including groundwater storage areas
  • Rising water table: increase in the height of water underground

Impacts of sea level rise on infrastructure and community resilience

Suzanne Mattei, DEC and Lisa Weiss, DOT

For the purpose of this report, the Sea Level Rise Task Force focused on six specific infrastructure sectors. Note: See sections of draft preliminary report for detailed assessment.

  1. Communications (centralized facilities, cable and telephone lines; antenna and transmitters, equipment manholes, vaults and pedestals)
  2. Energy (electric generating and natural gas facilities, and electric and gas transmission and distribution wires and pipes);
  3. Shoreline protective structures (protecting businesses, residences and infrastructure);
  4. Solid Waste (landfills, recycling centers, incinerators, transfer stations);
  5. Transportation (rail, subway, roads, airports, ferries, shipping facilities); and
  6. Water (drinking water storage/supply systems, wastewater treatment plants, pumping stations, septic systems and sewer pipe systems)

General Findings:

  • Along with central infrastructure facilities, methods of transportation and distribution to/from these facilities will be negatively affected in major ways.
  • Compounded or secondary impacts create significant risks and vulnerabilities. For example, emergency generators were available during Katrina, but the generators needed fuel, and there was no way of transporting the fuel to these generators amidst the flooding.

Future Plans:

  • Take a more in depth look at the solid waste impacts, especially debris following storms, and make recommendations for how to manage them
  • Identify by whom and how shoreline decisions are made, and develop recommendations for ways to change the decision making.
  • A new section on community resilience will be generated that will talk about how sea level rise will affect people and communities.

Audience Questions

  • What do NYS and NYC plan to do to protect the public from increased contaminants due to the changing depths of groundwater at contamination hotspots.
  • Has the NYC building department begun looking at changes to building codes to respond to increasing risk?

Impacts of sea level rise on ecosystems and natural resources

Sarah Newkirk, TNC and Karen Chytalo, DEC

Three habitat types were assessed for the preliminary report: tidal wetlands, barrier islands, and groundwater. Note: See sections of draft preliminary report for detailed assessment.

General Findings:

  • We have lost 10-40% of our tidal wetlands in the NYC and Long Island areas since the 1970s due to poorly understood factors. Resources should be dedicated to determining the cause of this loss and the effect of sea level rise on wetlands.
  • Sea level rise may outpace the natural sediment supply that supports beaches.
  • Pre-storm planning for post-storm redevelopment is an essential tool that can be used to improve coastal planning processes.
  • The biggest risk to natural systems is not from direct impacts of climate change and sea level rise, but from the potential human response to it.
  • Different communities will face different levels and types of risk and are going to need to respond in different ways.
  • TNC has tasked interns to evaluate what other states are doing to fund adaptation. They are planning a workshop with economists to discuss funding sources.

Audience Questions

  • Have you started mapping areas of damage to, or loss of, wetlands? Answer: haven't yet reached that level of specificity. It is likely that different areas will warrant different responses in terms of action to be taken.
  • How can we improve collaboration and maintain a dialogue with Native American tribes on the issue of wetland loss, as this issue is important to us and them?
  • Have we pinpointed areas that wetlands could migrate? Are we talking about buying property to allow areas to migrate? We need to map these areas.

Mapping Vulnerability

Fred Nuffer, SEMO

General findings: (Note: see Mapping Sea Level Rise Power Point) (PDF, 63KB)

  • The SLRTF recognizes the importance of developing detailed sea level rise inundation maps that depict the impact of various levels of sea level rise.
  • Mapping is needed to know where flooding is most likely to occur under a variety of timeframes and sea level rise and storm scenarios.
  • The SLRTF is considering whether or not to use the Sea, Lake, and Overland Surges from Hurricanes (SLOSH) Model for inundation risk analysis. The SLOSH Model is a computerized model run by the National Hurricane Center (NHC) to estimate storm surge heights and winds resulting from historical, hypothetical, or predicted hurricanes.
  • Because of data limitations map products generated for the task force should be viewed as simply identifying the areas of greatest risk. No current GIS mapping product should be considered the final decision tool as to whether to relocate, elevate, or harden specific structures.

Obstacles/ Data limitations

  • At this point, it is not viable to produce meaningful inundation maps for the upper Hudson River Estuary because the relationship between sea level rise, storm surge inundation, and hydraulics is not clearly understood.
  • NYS lacks coastwide high resolution elevation data set to map flooding and inundation potential. Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology should be used to collect this data.

Comments to preliminary recommendations

Robi Schlaff, DEC; Udo Drescher, DEC

  • We should follow the examples of London, Jakarta, and Holland and develop long-term water management plans that consider all aspects of water and flooding.
  • We should consider working with other coastal states like the Mid-Atlantic Regional Governors Organization (MARCO) in order to get the federal government to help with funding for adaptation planning.
  • We could focus on areas where we share a watershed with another state to develop a joint plan or regional plan.
  • We need a permanent commitment of resources and dedicated staff to continue looking at sea level rise.
  • We need increased penalties for building on the shoreline. These penalties may serve as new ways to accumulate funding for adaptation.

Audience comments/questions

  • We need to demonstrate tangible evidence of sea level rise on maps to raise public awareness and demonstrate that sea level rise is a legitimate problem; otherwise, we are not going to get the money to adapt.
  • At some point, you have to put away the models. Instead, what are the data telling us? What do the people working in the fields see?
  • We must try to somehow gauge the precise degree of risk involved in sea level rise, and present that information to the policymakers.
  • There was much discussion about how to convey immediate risks and the need for immediate action. We can include current flooding impacts and their costs as well as quantifying dollar amounts for how much is at risk in the future.
  • Reorganize the report to begin with the risks.
  • Insurance could be the easiest place to start, it equates dollars and cents to risk and this is needed to make forward progress.
  • Five regulatory changes that could be done now (Michael Gerrard)
    1. Modify tidal wetlands regulations
    2. SEQRA
    3. Modify regulations under the Shoreowner's Protection Act
    4. Local planning/zoning regulations: modify requirements under Local Waterfront Revitalization Program and Coastal Consistency Act
    5. Modify assessment procedures for brownfields
  • Three recommendations, according to member of audience
    1. Stop issuing waterfront leases
    2. Change public spending priorities
    3. Stop issuing permits for waterfront/in water projects that aren't water-dependent

Next Steps

  • Letter to NYS Department of Insurance to ask for assistance
  • Reorganize report to highlight current risk as well as projected future risk.
  • Put draft of report and summary of meeting on the web with notes for sections that are still to be developed.
  • Add a community resilience section that highlights risks to disadvantaged communities
  • Public outreach sessions will be scheduled after the release of the NYC Adaptation Task Force report this fall.

Agenda for the Sea Level Rise Task Force Meeting held on Monday, June 29, 2009, at the Public Service Commission Board Room, 90 Church St., New York City from 10:00 AM to 12:30PM

Meeting Purposes:

  • Present task force with update on extension of task force deadline to 2010
  • Present task force with first draft of report
  • Discuss next steps

Agenda

10:00 - 10:15 Welcome/introductions/announcements, Update on task force extension - Commissioner Pete Grannis, DEC

Author presentations on report sections

10:15 - 10:30 Climate science and sea level rise - Fred Anders, DOS and Alan Belensz, DEC

10:30 - 10:45 Infrastructure and community resilience risk assessment - Suzanne Mattei, DEC and Lisa Weiss, DOT

10:45 - 11:00 Ecosystems and natural resources risk assessment - Sarah Newkirk, TNC and Karen Chytalo, DEC

11:00 - 11:15 Mapping vulnerability - Fred Nuffer, SEMO

11:15 - 12:00 Preliminary recommendations - Robi Schlaff, DEC; Udo Drescher, DEC

12:00 - 12:30 Comments and Next Steps

12:30 Adjourn