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National Estuary Program (NEP)

How the National Estuary Programs Address Climate Change

Estuaries face unique impacts from climate change. As sea-levels rise, increased erosion and inundation threaten many coastal wetlands and estuarine habitats. As temperatures rise due to climate change, so do stresses to habitats and fish and wildlife populations. Climate change will lead to more severe storms, which means increased polluted runoff. This runoff can further degrade water quality in estuarine waters.

NEP Approach/Success Stories

On this page:

See also: Climate Ready Estuaries website.

Coastal and Heartland National Estuary Partnership (CHNEP)

The EPA Climate Ready Estuaries (CRE) program helps coastal managers:

  • assess climate change vulnerabilities;
  • develop and implement adaptation strategies;
  • engage stakeholders; and
  • share lessons learned.

With EPA CRE support, CHNEP and partner Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council developed a comprehensive report evaluating climate change vulnerabilities in southwest Florida. The team used the latest scientific information in developing the report.

In addition, the partnership developed key tools that local governments can utilize. These resources include:

  • model language for local government climate change adaptation plans;
  • a list of climate change environmental indicators; and
  • a climate change conceptual ecological model.

The partnership also teamed with the city of Punta Gorda (in Lee County, Florida) to develop a climate change adaptation plan that reflects citizen input and community priorities. In its role, CHNEP held public workshops and facilitated the planning process, which included analyzing the city's climate change vulnerabilities, and developing mitigation strategies and adaptation techniques, as well as an implementation framework for the identified actions.

The plan underwent public, city staff and council review before it was unanimously accepted in November 2009. The adaptation plan serves as a sourcebook of ideas to make the city more resilient. Further, the city’s adaptation planning model subsequently served as a model for Lee County’s government.

These communities are taking on the complex, long-range challenge of climate change with plans that provide a basis for incremental actions. This approach can make a significant difference in the long run without tremendous upfront costs. Punta Gorda's plan includes a total of prioritized acceptable and unacceptable adaptation options as defined through group consensus.

Moreover, Punta Gorda's plan indicates which areas will retain natural shorelines and constrain locations for certain high-risk infrastructure. The community has the data and analysis, as well as a framework to consider the menu of adaptation options that make sense at any point in time.

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Long Island Sound

The Long Island Sound Study sponsored the development of a strategic plan and program to detect signs of climate change in Long Island Sound estuarine and coastal ecosystems. The program, Sentinel Monitoring for Climate Change in Long Island Sound, is a multidisciplinary, scientific approach to provide early warnings of climate change impacts and develop processes to facilitate appropriate and timely management decisions and adaptation responses.

The program will base the early warnings on assessments of indicators and sentinels related to climate changes. Moreover, the program’s approach is novel in that it combines regional-scale predictions and climate drivers with local monitoring information to identify candidate sentinels of change.

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Partnership for the Delaware Estuary (PDE)

The PDE engaged experts to assess vulnerabilities and adaptation options for tidal wetlands, drinking water and bivalve shellfish. Their report, Climate Change and the Delaware Estuary, includes three case studies on climate change impacts on habitat, humans, water use and living resources.

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Santa Monica Bay National Estuary Program (SMBNEP)

The SMBNEP is engaged in various climate change initiatives affecting Santa Monica Bay and Los Angeles.

Through a U.S. EPA Climate Ready Estuary (CRE) grant, SMBNEP and researchers from Loyola Marymount University developed the Study of Potential Climate Change Impacts on Coastal Wetlands. The study analyzed future conditions of coastal wetlands in Los Angeles. To do so, the team used climatic and hydrological models to simulate the impacts of various sea level and precipitation scenarios.

The results of these models are being applied to the alternatives in the Environmental Impact Report (EIR)/ Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the 600-acre Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve.

The reserve is important regionally as a stop-over for the Pacific Flyway, and restoring it will help offset the 97-percent loss of coastal wetlands in Los Angeles. The ecological restoration is being conducted with an expected 3-foot rise in sea level by the end of the century. The contours and other features of the project will allow for the transgression of habitats as the complex experiences greater inundation while providing flood protection for the neighboring communities of Venice and Marina Del Rey.

The SMBNEP helped to convene a partnership of eleven local coastal jurisdictions and organizations to launch the regional AdaptLA Project. Funded by a grant from the State Coastal Conservancy and Coastal Commission, this multi-year project will gather data and model future coastlines. The application of this work is to determine coastal vulnerability to:

  • sea level rise;
  • increased wave heights;
  • more intense precipitation;
  • storm surges; and
  • El Niño Southern Oscillation.

The outputs of this work are intended to inform coastal municipalities and related agencies via a series of webinars, workshops and outreach to their constituents.

With an upcoming EPA grant, the SMBNEP will install high-precision, high-frequency pH and pCO2 sensors with project partners. The sensors will provide continuous measurements of ocean acidification (OA), helping SMBNEP understand the intensity and trend of OA in Santa Monica Bay compared to other locations along the West Coast.

With this information, project partners can explore how OA is affecting the amount, health and distribution of marine life. Lastly, these findings will help the team assess the need for the reduction of nutrients into Santa Monica Bay, from sources such as sewage treatment plants, urban runoff and aerial deposition.

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Sarasota Bay Estuary Program (SBEP)

In 2014, EPA’s Climate Ready Estuaries (CRE) program prompted SBEP (located in Florida) to collaborate with Mote Marine Lab to develop the Sea Level Rise Adaptation Planning Guide. The guide provides information about basic considerations and tools to adapt to climate-related sea level rise. The audiences for the guide include the following:

  • Local community leaders
  • Planners
  • Resource managers
  • Concerned individuals

The SBEP also managed the creation of a regional Sea Level Rise Visualization Tool. The tool demonstrates projections of flooding associated with varied levels of sea level rise, in addition to storm surge effects.

The SBEP continues to engage the local community on sea level rise adaptation and resiliency planning.

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Tampa Bay Estuary Program (TBEP)

The Critical Coastal Habitat Assessment is a project to detect changes to critical coastal habitats from climate change and indirect anthropogenic impacts through a long-term monitoring program.

The monitoring will characterize the baseline (2014/2015) status of the mosaic of critical coastal habitats and can be used to detect trends in those habitats over time and assess changes in ecological function of habitats over time. The project selected monitoring locations in each of the major bay segments and two tidal river locations that have a full complement of emergent tidal wetland communities, including the following:

  • Mangrove
  • Salt marsh
  • Salt barrens
  • Coastal uplands

The project conducted a pilot assessment at Upper Tampa Bay Park in August 2014 and the methods were then refined by the Habitat Partnership. This project is part of a larger effort to manage, restore and protect the mosaic of coastal habitats critical to the ecological function of the Tampa Bay estuary.

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