Readying For Rising Waters On New Hampshire's Seacoast

Dec 13, 2016

A new report from the Coastal Risk and Hazards Commission warns the region's cities and towns to prepare for a future with higher sea-levels and heavier rainstorms.  It recommends communities start planning now to protect property, infrastructure, and public safety. 


GUESTS:

  • Cliff Sinnott -  Executive Director of the Rockingham Planning Commission and chairman of the Coastal Risk and Hazards Commission.
  • Nancy Stiles  -  former Republican State Senator from District 24, which covers 11 seacoast communities, including Hampton.   
  • David Watters - Democratic State Senator representing District 4, which includes Barrington, Dover, Rollinsford, and Somersworth.
  • Cameron Wake - Research Professor with the UNH Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space and a member of the Coastal Risk and Hazards Commission. 
  • Dan Innis - incoming Republican State Senator from District 24, which includes Hampton, Rye, Greenland, and Seabrook. He's also former dean of the Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics at UNH and former owner of two small hotels in Portsmouth.

SHOW HIGHLIGHTS:

Why is the seacoast so vulnerable to heavy rainfall?

Cameron Wake: First of all we have a historical pattern of settling beside the water, whether that's the coastal areas or on our rivers. Second of all, we've seen a significant increase in our population -- so a tripling of our population, a quadrupling of the developed area, which needs more impervious surface, which means more of that water runs off. And then we have the issue of climate change. We've seen a significant increase in both the magnitude and frequency of extreme precipitation events and we're seeing our sea level continuing to rise, with projections showing substantially an increase in the rate of that rise over the course of the next several decades. 

What are the predictions for sea level rise?

Wake: We call them projections because they're based on scenarios so we can't be sure what's going to happen. But we're trying to projecct what could happen depending on how much greenhouse gas humans emit into the atmosphere. But essentially we're looking at the range of 1.7 to 6.6 feet of sea level rise by the end of the century. And by the middle of the century, 2050, that's on the order of 1.5 to two feet two feet. 

Two feet would result in a significant increase in damage to our infrastructure and our homes along the seacoast and really is something that we're going to have to prepare for. --Cameron Wake

 

Cliff Sinnott: I think one of the things that people should be heartened by is that compared to some states particularly ones that have much more extensive low lying areas. New Hampshire is not as vulnerable as some places are. It's it's more confined in terms of where those vulnerabilities are. Not to and not to downplay them. But this is not a situation that we can't address  -- if we start now and start working to sort of limit our vulnerabilities going forward. 

How vulnerable is this region and the coastal way of life? 

Sinnott: One of the key points here is that this is not a change that's happening immediately.We do have a little bit of time if, and if we use that time wisely,  we can take advantage of the fact that infrastructure is rebuilt and reconstructed, homes are rebuilt and reconstructed. Things can change over that period of 30, 50, 80, 100 years -- so that we can begin to sort of integrate more resilient design into what we have now.