Adaptation Planning - Planning for Coastal Flooding and Sea Level Rise

Adaptation to sea level rise are the steps a community takes to become more resilient to the impacts of rising seas over a period of time. Adaptation strategies are complimentary of each other, rather than mutually exclusive, and may be applied comprehensively based on the context of a community's varying needs and vulnerabilities. Several adaptation strategies a community may use to address current and future coastal flooding include†:

  1. Protection - Protection strategies involve "hard" and "soft" structurally defensive measures to mitigate the impacts of current and future flooding, such as seawalls or beach renourishment, to maintain existing development.
  2. Accommodation - Accommodation strategies do not act as a barrier to inundation but rather alter the design, construction and use of structures to handle periodic flooding. Examples include elevating structures and stormwater retrofits that improve drainage or use natural areas to soak up or store water and runoff (i.e., green infrastructure).
  3. Strategic Relocation - Strategic relocation involves the possible relocation of existing development to safer areas through voluntary or incentivized measures in populated, hazard-prone areas that reduce the intensity of development and/or gradually increase setbacks over time. Such options usually involve the transition of vulnerable land from private to public ownership but may also include other strategies such as transfer of development rights, purchase of development rights and rolling easements.
  4. Avoidance - Avoidance involves anticipatory actions taken to direct new development away from vulnerable lands to safer areas. Examples include land conservation, conservation easements, transfer of development rights and increased coastal setbacks.
  5. Procedural - Procedural strategies aim to generate vulnerability and adaptation information, increase awareness of vulnerabilities and adaptation options or incorporate such information into plans or policies. Examples include vulnerability assessments, community outreach and education activities, new comprehensive plan language addressing sea level rise and real estate disclosures.

†Adaptation strategies and explanations were adapted from the following sources:

Impacts of Rising Sea Levels

Communities that are subject to sea level rise may experience an increase in coastal vulnerability. Effects on communities may include:

  • Increased flooding and drainage problems;
  • Flooded infrastructure, such as streets and sewer systems;
  • Loss of infrastructure and existing development;
  • Higher storm surge, increased evacuation areas and evacuation time frames;
  • Destruction of natural resources and critical habitats;
  • Increased shoreline erosion; and
  • Saltwater intrusion into drinking water supplies.

Coastal Management Element of the Local Comprehensive Plan

Redevelopment Component

Local comprehensive plans with a coastal management element are required to addresses development and redevelopment in coastal areas, including a redevelopment component outlining the principles to be used to eliminate inappropriate and unsafe development in the coastal area when opportunities arise. The 2015 Florida Legislature's updates to the redevelopment component state the component must:

  1. Include development and redevelopment principles, strategies and engineering solutions that reduce the flood risk in coastal areas, which results from high-tide events, storm surge, flash floods, stormwater runoff and the related impacts of sea level rise among other requirements.
  2. Encourage the use of best practices development and redevelopment principles, strategies, and engineering solutions that will result in the removal of coastal real property from flood zone designations established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
  3. Identify site development techniques and best practices that may reduce losses due to flooding and claims made under flood insurance policies issued in this state.
  4. Be consistent with, or more stringent than, the flood-resistant construction requirements in the Florida Building Code and applicable flood plain management regulations set forth in 44 C.F.R. part 60.
  5. Require that any construction activities seaward of the coastal construction control lines established pursuant to section 161.053, Florida Statutes, be consistent with chapter 161, Florida Statutes.
  6. Encourage local governments to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program Community Rating System administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to achieve flood insurance premium discounts for their residents.

Statutory Reference

  • Section 163.3178(2)(f), Florida Statutes.

Adaptation Action Areas

Adaptation Action Areas are a policy tool that allows local governments to plan for sea level rise, designate vulnerable areas and prioritize adaptation strategies. There is significant flexibility in how a local government can develop Adaptation Action Areas. Local governments are authorized but not required to designate Adaption Action Areas in their comprehensive plans.  An "adaptation action area" or "adaptation area" is an area that experiences coastal flooding due to extreme high tides and storm surge and is vulnerable to the related impacts of rising sea levels for prioritizing funding for infrastructure needs and adaptation planning. Local governments that adopt an Adaptation Action Area may consider policies within the coastal management element to improve resilience to coastal flooding resulting from high-tide events, storm surge, flash floods, stormwater runoff and related impacts of sea level rise. Criteria for the adaptation action area may include, but need not be limited to:

  • Areas below, at or near mean higher high water;
  • Areas which have a hydrological connection to coastal waters; and
  • Areas designated as evacuation zones for storm surge. 

Statutory References

  • Section 163.3164(1), Florida Statutes.
  • Section 163.3177(6)(g)(10), Florida Statutes.

Adaptation Planning Research and Publications

At the national, regional and state level, there are several resources that may be useful to communities looking for a deeper understanding of the potential for sea level rise and adaptation options available. Below are a few recommendations:

  • Adaptation Tool Kit: Sea level Rise and Coastal Land Use - The Adaptation Tool Kit maintained by the Georgetown Climate Center in Washington, D.C., explores 18 different land-use tools that can be used to adapt to potential impacts posed by sea level rise for both public and private coastal development and infrastructure. The Tool Kit assists governments in determining which tools to use to meet their unique socioeconomic and political contexts.
  • Climate Change and Sea Level Rise in Florida - The Florida Oceans and Coastal Council published a 2010 update to its 2009 publication "The Effects of Climate Change on Florida's Ocean and Coastal Resources" concerning the potential effects of climate change on Florida's coastal resources. This short primer provides a scientifically based discussion of both historically observed and future projected sea level rise, with an emphasis on sea level rise effects across different coastal categories.
  • Sea Level Rise Adaptation Options For Local Governments - This presentation, prepared by Dr. Robert Deyle of Florida State University's Department of Urban and Regional Planning, delivers an overview of sea level rise challenges facing local governments and available adaptation responses.
  • Sea Level Changes in the Southeastern United States - This 2011 publication by Dr. Gary Mitchum of the University of South Florida's College of Marine Science presents a scientific overview of past, present, and future sea level rise. Written with the non-scientist in mind, Dr. Mitchum's paper is highly accessible, informative, and relevant to Florida's coastal communities.

Adaptation Planning Tools

Below are an array of valuable online tools and resource collections for use in sea level rise adaptation planning:

Adaptation Planning in Florida

Florida has several sea level rise adaptation planning projects completed and under development at the state, local and regional levels. Notable projects include:

  • The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact - The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact represents a joint commitment of Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Monroe counties to partner in mitigating the causes and adapting to the consequences of climate change. The compact is the lead alliance that supports planning for "adaptation action areas," and is working to secure funding to further this effort.
  • Lee County Climate Change Resiliency Strategy - Lee County followed up a 2010 Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment with the Climate Change Resiliency Strategy. This strategy includes approaches to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change, while also positioning the County to take advantage of potential economic development opportunities associated with climate change.
  • The City of Punta Gorda Adaptation Plan - The City of Punta Gorda, Florida, completed a publicly lead adaptation planning process at the city-level to address sea level rise in its downtown area.
  • Municipal Adaptation to Sea level Rise: City of Satellite Beach, Florida - In the fall of 2009, the City of Satellite Beach, Florida, embarked on a project to assess municipal vulnerability to rising sea levels and initiate the planning process to properly mitigate impacts.
  • Planning for Sea Level Rise in the Matanzas Basin - The Guano Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve and the University of Florida collaborated to work with Matanzas Basin stakeholders in Northeast Florida to plan for sea level rise in a way that protects communities and the environments they depend on for quality of life and commerce. The project produced an in-depth report exploring opportunities for adaptation. The report's appendices also offer additional resources communities may find useful, such as a planning for sea level rise toolkit.

Community Resiliency Initiative: Planning for Adaptation to Sea Level Rise

From 2011 to 2017, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) led the Community Resiliency Initiative in partnership with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) with assistance from the Division of Emergency Management. The goal of the Community Resiliency Initiative was to provide technical assistance to coastal communities interested in pursuing innovative planning and development strategies that ensure their long-term vitality while addressing current and future coastal flooding risks. The Community Resiliency Initiative followed the lead of local governments to develop sensible best practices and to encourage sound investments that support economic development, community safety, and natural resource management.

This effort was steered by a Focus Group of statewide experts on adaptation and coastal vulnerability, as well as stakeholders in the coastal area. The Community Resiliency Initiative culminated in adaptation planning pilots conducted in three communities across the state. DEO also received funding to facilitate a pilot project in Fort Lauderdale and Broward County that implemented the state's first Adaptation Action Area.

Since 2017, the program has been continued by the Florida Resilient Coastlines Program at DEP. For more information on this continued effort, please visit the Florida Resilient Coastlines Program webpage.

Products of the Initiative

Community Resiliency Logo

For a complete listing of documents produced through the Community Resiliency Initiative, please visit the Florida Resilient Coastlines Program, Community Resilience Initiative Documents webpage.

Relationship between Hazard Mitigation and Adaptation Planning

The actions a community will take to mitigate vulnerability to coastal flooding and sea level rise are very similar. The main difference is that sea level rise adaptation assumes a longer time-frame for impact and therefore offers a longer time frame for need and implementation. Sea level rise also assumes an increase in the vulnerability of areas already subject to coastal flooding; therefore, adaptation projects consider the increased vulnerability.

Relationship between the Coastal High-Hazard Area and Adaptation Action Area

While the definition and boundary of the Coastal High-Hazard Area is standardized as the category one storm surge zone as delineated by the Sea, Lake and Overland Surges from Hurricanes (SLOSH) model, there is no standard boundary for the Adaptation Action Area. If a community chooses to designate an Adaptation Action Area, it is up to the local government to decide what property should be included in the boundary. The main difference between the Coastal High-Hazard Area and the Adaptation Action Area is that the Coastal High-Hazard Area considers current coastal flooding conditions while the Adaptation Action Area encourages planning for future vulnerability.

Featured Community

Broward County adopted "Broward County Climate Change Element" into their Comprehensive Plan that applies a variety of adaptation policies across countywide transportation, built environment, natural resource, and water resource systems.

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