What will climate change look like for the Delaware Estuary? The media is filled with images of melting Arctic ice and stranded polar bears, but how will these changes affect regular folks in New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania? In 2008, PDE decided to study the local impacts of climate change by participating in EPA’s Climate Ready Estuaries Program. The scientific investigation brought the climate science home with local predictions, and focused on three vulnerable resources: shellfish, wetlands, and drinking water. Released in 2010, Climate Change and the Delaware Estuary assessed the vulnerabilities of these three key resources and laid out an adaptation plan to help the region prepare for the changes ahead.
With the science in place, Weathering Change was launched to engage community leaders and spread the message of preparedness and adaptation. A series of workshops were held around the region called “Out of Harm’s Way”. Weather Change includes a strong municipal outreach component, and encourages communities to sign a pledge to “Take Action for Weathering Change”. By planning now, we can create more resilient infrastructure, safer communities, and natural areas that can respond to these environmental stresses.
Rainy days and snow storms are happening more frequently, and are bringing more precipitation. We are experiencing more hot and dry spells in the summer. Coastal tides are slowly rising. Scientists around the world agree that the oceans will rise two to five feet in the next century. In the Delaware Estuary, this will be intensified by "subsidence" (which means that the coastline is sinking). As the ocean rises, so will the tide -- making storm surges that much larger. Wetlands and shellfish will be challenged with increased sea level rise and salinity brought about by climate change. Tidal marshes will be battered by erosion, caused by sea level rise. Tidal marshes are crucial to the survival of coastal plants, animals, and fish, as well as the safety of nearby communities.
How Can We Adapt?
Coastal communities in particular need to be aware of sea level rise projections when planning for the future of their neighborhoods. Segmented, nearshore sills paired with mussels and plants can be an effective and scenic way of protecting our coasts. Stormwater is the water that runs off the streets when it rains. As water runs along roads, it picks up pollution (like chemicals, trash, and pet waste) and carries it to local streams, a source of our drinking water in many places. Properly managing stormwater helps to keep chemicals and waste out of our drinking water. When properly managed, rainwater filters into the ground before it can pick up contaminants and spill into our waterways. When more stormwater is absorbed by the ground, the less likely local creeks are to flash flood.