DNREC warns public to consider rising sea levels

By Tom Lehman 10:26pm, February 19, 2013 - Updated 6:04pm, February 20, 2013
DNREC Resource Planner Susan Love, University of Delaware engineering professor Jim Kirby, Wilmington City Councilwoman Hanifa Shabazz, and Southbridge resident Jackson Grimes weigh in.
DNREC officials warned that rising sea levels could have long term effects over the next several decades during the Delaware Sea Level Rise Advisory Committee's community engagement meeting Tuesday night.

The meeting gave the public an opportunity to hear information regarding rising sea levels and make suggestions on how the state should try to address with the issue.

Susan Love, a resource planner with DNREC's coastal programs, says a department study shows state sea levels have risen at an average rate of 3.35 millimeters, roughly twice the worldwide average.

Love says the rate of rising seas is likely to increase through the year 2100, and that a committee of scientists developed scenarios that saw as little as 1.6 feet of rising water under a rate similar to the current one and nearly 5 feet under a worst case scenario.

Because roadways and houses could last for decades, she says it's important to begin thinking about the effects that a rise in water could have on developments being considered today.

"That's one of the reasons that we're here is so that we can make sure people know that this is coming, that local governments know this is coming, that businesses know that sea level rise is an issue," she says.

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She says global warming contributes to rising sea levels but that the issue will affect Delawareans regardless of carbon emission levels. She noted that seas have risen 13 inches in Delaware over the last hundred years.

"Even if we stopped emitting carbon today, the seas would continue to rise," she says.

University of Delaware Civil and Environmental Engineering professor Jim Kirby says he is researching how tidal marshes would be able to react to rising sea levels.

Kirby says tidal marshes are normally able to adapt to rising seas, but if the rate grows too quickly that ability may be compromised.

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"And they're very, very good at

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because they're very productive and they secrete a lot of sediment and everything, but at some point if sea levels rise fast enough then it gets to the point where the marshes can't keep up," Kirby says.

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Kirby says global warming is the cause for rising sea levels, but thinks it's an issue that needs to be acknowledged regardless of what's causing it.

"Whether or not it's manmade or whether it's just doing it naturally, that's sort of irrelevant, it's rising anyway," he says.

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Love says rising seas could also have major effects on coastal communities during major storms, such as Superstorm Sandy.

"Sea level rise is going to be related to more severe impacts from these coastal storms that we're seeing on a pretty routine basis," Love says.

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Wilmington City Councilwoman Hanifa Shabazz attended the meeting and says rising sea levels would have major effects in the city's southern communities like Southbridge, which already see flooding during times of significant rainfall and major storms.

Shabazz says the community has begun experiencing flash floods that deposit knee-high water on lower parts of the area.

"We're already experiencing significant levels of flooding that is different than what we've seen in the past," Shabazz says.

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She says that since the study shows much of south Wilmington will become innundated after several decades, it increases the possibility that residential developments will have to be moved or residents will be displaced.

Southbridge resident Jackson Grimes, who is a disabled veteran, says he's been evacuated from his home twice in recent years due to flooding caused by Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy.

Grimes says a community-based response is needed to address possible issues of flooding in the future.

"I think it's really important we do something because most of the residents in Southbridge are low income and very few people own cars," Grimes says.

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