Informing Restoration in Connecticut

Coastal storms, flooding and sea level rise endanger millions of Americans, and threaten infrastructure, industry, protective ecosystems, tourism and trade. In the U.S., the heaviest rainfall events have gotten even heavier over the last 50 years (67% heavier in the Northeast), making communities more vulnerable to inland flooding and storm surge from extreme weather events such as Irene and Sandy.

After living through Tropical Storm Irene, the 2011 Halloween Nor’easter and even a 2010 tornado, residents of Bridgeport—Connecticut’s most populous city—decided to better prepare for disasters.  Hurricane Sandy was a further reminder to this Community that the resilience work they had begun should be accelerated.

Partnering with The Nature Conservancy and others, city leaders allowed TNC to facilitate and lead Climate Preparedness workshops in early 2012 to advance a community-driven dialogue on risk, choices, and actions. Later that year, Hurricane Sandy carried an unprece­dented 11-foot storm surge – coupled with inland flooding – over vulnerable areas. Using the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Roadmap for Adapting to Coastal Risk and The Nature Conservancy’s Coastal Resilience tool and Risk Matrix, the city mapped exposure from projected flooding due to hurricanes combined with sea level rise, and prioritized actions to reduce risk. Bridgeport is now enrolling  in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Community Rating System, which offers private property owners a premium reduction through the National Flood Insurance Program in return for community-wide hazard mit­igation. Other city priorities include adjusting building codes and land use policy, incorporating nature-based solutions such as marsh advancement zones and natural infrastructure for managing storm water, and factoring climate change into redevelopment and infrastructure plans.

Bill signing ceremony with Connecticut Governor Malloy for Public Act 13-179, which requires town and state planning to include consideration of NOAA sea level rise scenarios. Photo courtesy of Governor Malloy’s office.

Today, more than 20 municipalities (coastal and inland) and five regional planning organizations are engaged via Coastal Resilience four step program, reaching 500,000 people. Six towns in the Greater Bridgeport area are in FEMA’s 2012 Community Resilience Innovation Challenge Program. A State Statute has been modified to include definition of Sea Level Rise, define the rate of sea level rise and enable natural approaches to shoreline erosion control (i.e., “living shorelines” in statute), and another requires waste water treatment facility development or redevelopment to include sea level rise in design. Lastly, NOAA Is now incorporating The Conservancy’s Risk Matrix into their risk reduction tool-kit to better assist communities across the entirety of the nation’s coast.