Coastal sea-level rise for Maryland will range from slightly less than a foot to more than two feet by mid-century, and from two to six feet by the end of the century, depending on numerous factors, including glacial ice melt, according to the projections in a recent report from the Maryland Commission on Climate Change.
Six feet of sea-level rise by 2100 might not seem like much, said Donald F. Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, until its effect on storm surge is factored in.
As waters inch up at a pace of nearly four millimeters per year, coastal Maryland will be highly vulnerable to flooding from wind surge from major storms such as Sandy, the “superstorm” that flooded New York City and wiped out huge chunks of the Jersey shore last year.
“It’s going to happen,” said Boesch, who led the commission’s Scientific and Technical Working Group. In addition to seas rising, land in Maryland has been sinking as a result of ancient geological events.
“Our estimate is we should prepare for a sea level that’s going to be almost up to my chest, well over my knees,” Boesch said. “We better prepare for that. We need to be ready to make some difficult and tough decisions about what we’re going to protect.”
The options are clear: Raise houses, place utility poles on high ground “so they’re not destroyed in every flood,” Boesch said.
Municipal planners facing similar issues in coastal regions nationwide have proposed another option: Retreat from areas that cannot be saved — do not locate schools, police stations, firehouses and other buildings meant to last 75 years in places projected to flood.
Homeowners in those areas should be given options: Leave the land with some compensation or stay at their own peril, according to an Environmental Protection Agency analysis called “Rolling Easements,” the latest manual instructing municipalities on ways to deal with rising tides.
Residents who hunker down should have the option of building expensive dikes and other easements at their own expense and paying higher rates of insurance. But they should not expect authorities to rescue them or relatives who assume ownership of threatened properties, and they should know that police and other emergency vehicles might one day be unable to plow through the waters to protect them.
Maryland is one of many governments worrying over rising sea levels and exploring ways to counter them.