1 February 2017

You Really Must Read this Book

Posted by Dan Satterfield

Sunset over the Chesapeake Bay. Dan’s photo.

I have a book you should read, but if you live in Miami, Northeast North Carolina, New Orleans, or own a home near salt water, you MUST read this book. If you live in Kansas and didn’t know your tax dollars are going to rebuild millionaires beach homes after they were destroyed on a retreating beach, you just might be interested too.

Anyone who starts looking for a good science expert on issues dealing with rising sea levels/ beaches/coastal development etc. soon hears the name, Orrin Pilkey. When I saw his name on a new book I grabbed it and was not disappointed. There are few people more knowledgeable about coastal issues and the threat coastal communities face than Pilkey, and we ignore his warnings at our peril.

Living here on the Delmarva Peninsula, and near some of the most beautiful and popular beaches on the East Coast, this is an issue that I must keep up with. I’m the science guy in the newsroom, and after we have a storm, I get questions; lots of questions. This book has a lot of answers and some are very uncomfortable. As always it’s not what you know, it’s all the things you did not know that you need to know that are important. Orrin Pilkey’s book (he is one of three co-authors) is full of things you need to know, especially if you live near the water.

It has some rather maddening information as well, for instance:

“In 2010 FEMA gave North Carolina a $5 million dollar grant to map the northeastern corner of the state, including maps of the predicted storm surge levels with various rates of sea-level rise of 1.5 feet, 3 feet, and 5 feet likely to occur by the year 2100. This kind of information is critical to community planners and invaluable to individuals buying a home they hope of eventually leaving to their children…..
Unfortunately, fearing the impact on real-estate prices and local economies, the state government prohibited the publication of storm-surge maps, which now sit in a drawer in a cabinet in someone’s office. This reckless, irresponsible act by the state government lost it a critical opportunity to begin considering its options…”

It seems to me that some journalists should look at getting a freedom of information act request to see those maps. Maybe they already have, and if so, I’ll gladly post them here.

Bethany Beach in Delaware suffered severe beach erosion last year but missed out on an emergency beach renourishment project to Rehoboth Beach a few miles north. Residents are hoping to escape a serious nor’easter this winter. Dan’s photo.

Beach renourishment has kept a wide beach at Ocean City, Md. Just south (right) the inlet jetty has blocked natural currents and increased the retreat of the north end of Assateague National Seashore.

Pilkey also mentions the Chesapeake Bay and the lovely town of Crisfield (which is in my viewing area). They suffered significant damage during Sandy, and since sea level in the bay is going up at a rate of ~1.75″ per decade, their flooding issues frequently make our newscasts. The number of beach towns asking for beach renourishment is growing, and at some point, the money is going to run out. In Miami, there is little sand left offshore to once again rebuild the beach, and Miami is in double trouble because as Pilkey points out, sea walls will do little to block the saltwater. Why? The porous limestone is allowing the ocean to come right up behind them. Yet, multi-million dollar projects continue on the Gold Coast, while residents drive through deeper water every time the king tides arrive, even on a sunny day.

Sunset over the Bay from Crisfield, Md. Dan’s photo.

The piper will be paid, and the sooner we come to terms with the fact that the ocean is rising, and will rise faster still in the coming decades, the better we can adjust. If we do not, the cost will be horrific, and the economies of communities near salt water, including some of our most beautiful beaches and summer playgrounds, will disappear.

Read the book.