Previously in this series…
As outlined in the introductory piece (https://bit.ly/2Q43gym) March 3, the Herald is endeavoring to provide a layman’s digest of climate change issues that Cape May County faces. We are doing this, given the potential disproportionate impact climate change may have upon us here at the ocean’s edge.
For our part, we have established that global warming is real and is caused by human activity (https://bit.ly/3xYMKRx) and we have examined what could happen globally (https://bit.ly/3uBC1dG) if no effort is made to reverse course, as well as locally (https://bit.ly/3hcAFSM), with continued sea level rise.
We will soon explore different carbon output mitigation efforts, weighing their effectiveness and practicality. But in this article, we will first explore efforts underway locally to prepare for a course of continuing sea level rise.
Where are we most vulnerable?
Avalon offers its residents a very clear and readable map, which identifies the borough’s most flood prone areas. The map is consistent with what officials say, and FEMA maps prove, to be a common theme on the barrier islands -- the worst flooding comes from the back bay
We will present Avalon as an example for the purposes of this series, since its presentation of the data is the easiest to digest. Avalon’s healthy dune system makes virtually its entire beach front “generally not prone to flooding during minor to major coastal flooding events
Only small pockets on the north end of the beachfront are prone to some street flooding during heavy rain events. Avalon’s bayfront homes toward the north end are the most susceptible to flooding, the map shows.
Rutgers University’s 2019 study (https://bit.ly/3hhQdEO) makes sea level rise projections for the end of the century, based on different emissions scenarios. The study shows projections of both 5.1 and 2 feet of sea level rise in New Jersey by 2100, under a “moderate emissions scenario” consistent with global policies from 2019, in the “likely range.”
The study gives greater than an 83% chance that we would see at least two feet of sea level rise, and less than a 17% chance that we will see 5.1 feet, by the year 2100 under that scenario
The website Climate Central, where research is “anchored on the bedrock of peer-reviewed science,” offers a useful tool (https://bit.ly/2Q6hbnD) that shows what parts of towns would be below water level, given various degrees of sea level rise.
According to that website’s analysis, with five feet of sea level rise, well over half of Avalon would be below water level. Virtually everything west of Dune Drive would be below water level. Everything over the 21st Street bridge, the 24th Street bridge and most of the “Fingers,” a manmade community of bayfront homes off of 42nd Street, would be below water level, given five feet of sea level rise.
With two feet of sea level rise, some bayfront homes on Ocean Drive, between 19th and 28th streets, as well as a pocket along the bay from 32-36th streets, would be below water level. The rest of the town would not be.
What would other towns look like at 2 feet (83% probability)?
Cape May Point has some areas that would be below water level, with two feet of sea level rise, but they are all isolated. Much of Cape May Point State Park and the Migratory Bird Refuge would be below water level, under that scenario. The City of Cape May would not be below water level.
Moving north into Diamond Beach, there would be no problems with the two feet scenario, but in Wildwood Crest, along Sunset Lake, the trouble begins. The rest of the island, including Wildwood and North Wildwood, shows some bayfront vulnerability, increasingly so toward the north end.
West Wildwood is really in trouble. Nearly that whole island, over the Glenwood Avenue bridge, would be below water level with just two feet of sea level rise. And remember, there is an 83% chance of seeing at least that much within 80 years, according to Rutgers.
Stone Harbor looks very similar to Avalon at two feet, with some sporadic land near the bayfront below water level.
At two feet, Sea Isle City would mostly be ok, with just a small section of town east of Fish Alley seeing flooding. As you move north into Strathmere, a narrow stretch of land between the ocean and bay, it’s a different story. The risk on the oceanfront in that town is significant, even given only two feet of sea level rise.
North into Ocean City, there is some vulnerability along parts of the bayfront. Anything east of West Avenue would be above water level, with two feet of sea level rise. On the back side of town, there would be several small pockets below water level.
Offshore, parts of the county on or near the Delaware Bay, including the Villas, would be below water level. Parts of Tuckahoe would also fall below the water level, especially in and around the MacNamara Wildlife Management Area, southwest of the Great Egg Harbor River.
What would other towns look like at 5 feet (17% probability)?
At five feet, significant parts of Cape May would be below the water level. Cape May Point would have only small pockets above the water level.
Diamond Beach would have some things to worry about on the ocean front and Wildwood Crest would have bigtime problems coming from its back bays.
In Wildwood, almost the entire city would be below water level. In North Wildwood, things are even worse. The main threat in both of those cities is the bay. West Wildwood would be hit the hardest in the county and be further underwater given the five-foot scenario.
In Stone Harbor, west of second avenue is in bigtime trouble, and it’s again the back bays that pose the threat there.
In Sea Isle, at five feet, everything west of Landis Avenue would be below water level, as would pretty much all of Strathmere.
In Ocean City, almost all but a small section at the north end of town, east of Central Avenue, would be in trouble.
Offshore under the five-foot scenario, the same parts of the county, along the Delaware Bay and Great Egg Harbor River, would be even further below water level, though the affected area does not expand much given that difference.
One major difference under the five-foot scenario is that parts of the Garden State Parkway begin to fall below the water level.
What can and is being done about this?
Different towns are working on raising bulkheads to thwart the threat from the back bay. This is a controversial and expensive process, which requires cooperation from both the municipalities and private property owners.
Local governments can change an ordinance, requiring private property owners to raise their bulkheads, often on a tiered schedule, with the lowest standing bulkheads having to get raised first.
At street ends and other places where the town owns the bulkhead, they must incur that expense, but otherwise it’s on the private property owner to come up with the funds.
Especially near the bayfront, builders and architects are being tasked with elevating new homes and some owners of existing homes are having those houses put on pylons and raised to mitigate flood risk.
Major recurring beach replenishment efforts, which are conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on all Cape May County barrier islands (except the Wildwoods), have helped fortify the oceanfront, leaving the islands’ bayfronts their most vulnerable area for flooding.
Towns are raising roads and improving drainage infrastructure. A recent project performed by the county on the road into Wildwood raised Rio Grande Avenue by three feet and added a pumping station to remove flood water.
Stone Harbor recently passed a lot grading ordinance, which allows lots to be elevated prior to new construction. This way, if eventually the streets are raised, the water will not just drain onto people’s lower-lying properties.
There is also work being done to raise and fortify the marshes, which are an important part of the local ecosystem, but also are a major help to slow major storms and absorb their impact.
A study commissioned by the insurance industry (https://go.nature.com/3hgIXJq) found that areas backed by healthy marshes fared a much better fate after Hurricane Sandy than those without a marsh system and found “wetlands avoided $625 million in direct flood damages during Hurricane Sandy.”
Dr. Lenore Tedesco, executive director of the Wetlands Institute, used the analogy of a spilled glass of water to help explain why. When you spill a glass of water on a hard wood floor – smooth, like the surface of the bay -- it will continue unabated across the floor. When you spill that glass of water on a shag carpet – similar to the marsh – it absorbs much of the impact from the spill.
In 2019, the Wetlands Institute partnered with the Army Corps and the state to found the Seven Mile Island Innovation Lab, (https://bit.ly/3y1vc7d) which is focused on improving dredging and marsh restoration techniques. Dredge spoils from deepening channels or other operations can be of big benefit to the marsh.
Studying our current course and determining where we are likely headed in the future is a critical step when preparing these large capital projects. Projections are important so that protective measures don’t constantly have to be expended or fortified in the future.
Next in the series…
Next in this series, we will begin to look into different carbon output mitigation efforts, with a focus on their effectiveness in reducing emissions, productivity and cost. We will study how their impact would alter the current course of climate change.
# # #
“A layman’s digest of how climate change impacts Cape May County” is an ongoing collaboration between Correspondent Shay Roddy and Publisher Art Hall, focused on taking a broad-based look at climate change and mankind’s efforts to mitigate it, both of which have major implications for our county.
It is the authors’ objective to do all they can to understand this issue and present it to the reader in succinct, readable installments. Responses are welcome in the form of Letters to the Editor or anonymously via a Spout Off submission, both of which will be considered for publication.
Prior Article Index:
Article 1 – An Introduction to a Series (https://bit.ly/3fUkFnH)
Article 2 – A Layman’s Understanding of Climate Change (https://bit.ly/3mw7BpS)
Article 3 – The Human Impact of Climate Change Globally (https://bit.ly/2RbCcNQ)
Article 4 – The Impact of Climate Change Locally (https://bit.ly/33sXeKW)