One year ago, at this time, we were watching Hurricane Sandy barrel up the east coast, worried about its impact on Delaware.
“Fenwick was under water, West Bethany was under water, so we were still hit. And of course the bay beaches were hit badly,” Gov. Jack Markell, D-Del, said.
But compared to New Jersey and New York, Markell says Delaware was spared.
“We were lucky. And, you know, it’s good to be prepared and we were,” he said.
At just 60 feet above sea level, Delaware has been preparing for storms like Sandy and the threat of sea level rise for years now.
According to the Dept. of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, DNREC, Delaware is expecting between one-and-a-half to three feet of sea level rise by the year 2100.
While sea level rise and the role people play in climate change continues to be debated, DNREC Secretary Collin O’Mara says everyone can agree Delaware is vulnerable to extreme storms and flooding.
“Whether you challenge the long term projections of sea level rise, they’re the same exact investments we’re gonna need to make ourselves more resilient so we don’t have some of the consequences we saw in New York and New Jersey if we do get hit with a storm.”
Sea Level Rise Committee
Three years ago, DNREC convened a sea level rise advisory committee bringing together representatives from the state, the private sector and environmental organizations.
Brenna Goggin with the Delaware Nature Society was a member of the committee charged with a two part mission.
“One was to identify where the state of Delaware was most vulnerable… like Route 1,” Goggin said, using the main evacuation route for beach towns south of the Indian River Inlet Bridge as an example. “So once we identified that and went through the process of collecting data and using that data to make an informed decision, we then had the goal of we had to come up with strategies.”
Finalized in May of this year, the committee’s recommendations included:
Improving communication between state, federal and local agencies as sea level rise adaptation efforts get underway
Developing a dike safety program, creating a single point of contact for repairs and management
Increasing public awareness of sea level rise through education and outreach
“When we have other states in the United States that are passing bills and legislation to say sea level rise isn’t happening and we aren’t going to deal with it, Delaware is definitely the lead state and a prime example for other states to look to,” Goggin said.
Delaware all in
Along with ongoing beach nourishment and dune restoration to protect the state’s $7 billion beach economy, Delaware is also shoring up its five dikes along the Delaware River.
Plans are also in the works to build a 20-acre wetland in Southbridge, a Wilmington neighborhood notorious for flooding.
Additionally, Gov. Markell signed Executive Order 41 in mid-September, directing state agencies to integrate sea level rise predictions when it comes to future investments and planning.
“We’re gonna have questions about what we do with some low-lying communities that keep getting inundated. You know, we’re taking some near-term steps to try to protect them, but what’s it gonna look like in 30, 40 and 50 years? And so these are some of the conversations we’re gonna have to have,” Markell said.
“We believe the template we have right now would have been able to withstand a Sandy-level storm… We’re fairly confident for a normal Category 3, Category 4 hurricane we would be able to withstand that,” said Secretary O’Mara.