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Gloucester: Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment

Find a description of this featured project funded through the Coastal Resilience Grant Program administered by the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM).

The Coastal Resilience Grant Program provides funding and technical assistance to municipalities and nonprofits to advance innovative local efforts to address coastal flooding, erosion, and sea level rise impacts through communication and public outreach initiatives, vulnerability assessments, planning activities, engineering projects, and natural storm damage protection.

The summary below describes a featured Coastal Resilience Grant project to highlight the range of projects eligible for funding and to demonstrate some of the lessons learned through project implementationCoastal Resilience Grant Program - Featured Projects provides links to additional examples.

Project Summary

In Fiscal Year (FY) 2014, the City of Gloucester received a grant to evaluate vulnerable community facilities and infrastructure at risk to sea level rise and develop recommendations to enhance the resilience of high-risk assets:

  • Project Category: Risk and Vulnerability Assessment
  • Summary: The city conducted a climate change vulnerability assessment to develop targeted strategies aimed at reducing risks from flooding and increased storm intensity.  The project used scenario planning to help the public and local officials understand the range of possible future conditions.  
Summary of Project Funding

FY14 Grant Award: $50,000

Total Match: $16,700 (25% of total project cost)

Community Overview

Located on Cape Ann, approximately 30 miles northeast of Boston, Gloucester has more than 62 miles of shoreline that are subject to coastal storm forces off the Atlantic Ocean. Some areas of the community are already impacted by coastal flooding, and many public and private properties will be at even greater risk as sea level rises.

Project Goals

Some areas that are vulnerable to potential impacts from storm surge and sea level rise in Gloucester may extend beyond existing flood inundation zones on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood risk maps. Gloucester has stringent development standards for current FEMA flood zones, but no standards exist for lands that may be subject to coastal flooding under future storm and sea level rise conditions. The city was concerned that failure to address this risk could result in profound future flood losses.

To effectively plan for future conditions, more accurate data, modeling tools, and expert analysis was needed. Gloucester applied for and received a Coastal Resilience Grant to identify its most vulnerable areas and develop strategies to help safeguard their long-term economic vitality and the city’s maritime heritage. The specific goals of Gloucester’s Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment were to identify locations, structures, and other assets that are vulnerable to the combined effects of storm surge and sea level rise and identify strategies that would help to minimize flood impacts.

Approach and Results

The project was managed by the Gloucester Planning Department in close collaboration with consultants specializing in flood and natural resource modeling, coastal engineering, and public outreach. The project team’s first goal was to review and select appropriate inputs to model the impacts of storm surge and sea level rise on Gloucester’s coastline. The project team decided to use the “highest” sea level rise scenario as contained in Global Sea Level Rise Scenarios for United States National Climate Assessment (Parris et al., 2012) for both near-term (2030) and long-term (2070) planning horizons.

Maps depicting potential flooding and associated water depths from hurricanes and northeasters, as well as future sea level rise, were generated and used as a basis for identifying municipally owned infrastructure and other critical facilities (e.g., sewer pump stations, roads, bridges, schools, police and fire stations, natural resources, and coastal structures) at risk of flooding. Assets located in vulnerable areas were further evaluated by considering a range of potential socio-economic and environmental consequences should they fail or become inoperable during a flood event. Short-, mid-, and long-term recommendations were developed to help adapt high-risk assets to storm and sea level rise conditions.

The coastal flood inundation maps, as well as recommendations to enhance the resilience of low-lying infrastructure and natural resources to future storm events and increasing sea level, are presented in the final report for the project. For links to the report and more information on the planning process, see Gloucester’s Resilience Planning web page.

Partners and Other Support

Gloucester convened a project team of local residents and representatives from the city’s planning, conservation, public works, and community development departments whose knowledge and expertise helped to inform the project. Gloucester had already formed an ad hoc partnership between city staff, volunteer boards (including the Gloucester Clean Energy Commission), and nonprofits (including Maritime Gloucester) that began engaging community members on climate change and the values of coastal systems in storm damage protection. The project team worked closely with the ad hoc group to communicate project progress to the public and increase awareness among affected stakeholders.

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