You Are Here: Mapping how sea level rise and flooding will affect your home

Macolm Spaulding, URI professor emeritus, showed how Charlestown and Warwick would be impacted by flooding and sea level rise. Visualization by Peter Stempel, URI.

Macolm Spaulding, URI professor emeritus, showed how Charlestown and Warwick would be impacted by flooding and sea level rise. Visualization by Peter Stempel, URI.

If you live in any of Rhode Island’s 21 coastal municipalities, you will soon be able to find out exactly how your home will be affected by sea level rise and coastal flooding thanks to a new report done as part of the state’s Shoreline Change Special Area Management Plan, or Beach SAMP.

Nicole Leporacci, a University of Rhode Island master’s of environmental science and management student, presented her findings at a Beach SAMP stakeholder meeting in late August. She combined the use of two existing tools to demonstrate the vulnerability of specific buildings to storm flooding with and without projected sea level rise of up to 7 feet, as is expected under some scenarios by 2100. She used STORMTOOLS, a mapping program showing the extent of flooding that would occur in Rhode Island under various sea level rise and storm intensity combinations, and overlaid on it information from the state’s E-911 database that maps all structures in the state and categorizes them in detail (for example, as farms, lodging, healthcare facilities, utilities, churches, schools, and single or multifamily homes, etc.).

Her results have been published in a spreadsheet, soon to be available from the Beach SAMP website, that allows users to look up any address in any coastal municipality and determine what type of building it is and what its risk is from storms and sea level rise.

While this information has the potential to be, at the very least, discouraging, Leporacci and the state’s Coastal Resources Management Council look at it as a way to aid planners and homeowners in preparing for their risks.

Leporacci suggested that planners could look at the data and prioritize areas, such as schools or ambulance facilities, to increase resilience. “Some of these towns have one ambulance house … that one ambulance house is damaged, they have to plan for what they’re going to do next,” she said. “Every town, I’m sure, knows their structures best and what is most important to them, but if I were a town planner, I would go in [to the database] and see how many structures are in each category …  and start from there.”

“It’s going to be an asset to the entire state to have this database and begin these conversations,” added James Boyd, CRMC coastal policy analyst.

Flooding visualization

Another URI project is working on developing improved visualizations of potential flood debris. Visualization by Peter Stempel, URI.

A member of the audience commented that the problem of sea level rise and inundation was a national one, and asked what other states were doing. Grover Fugate, CRMC executive director, said that many other states have not assessed their risks to the extent that Rhode Island has done. He explained that Rhode Island’s coastal program, unlike in many other states, is a direct permitting program, “so we have a keen interest in understanding all this as we go forward to permit structures.” Most states have “policy and advisory” coastal programs, he said, and “as a result they leave it to the municipalities, and municipalities typically don’t have the resources and the expertise to do it.”

“In Rhode Island, we have a very similar interest to the communities in this, so as we’re developing this we’re trying to make sure that these tools and information [are] also available not only to us but to the other communities and to the public at large so they can better understand what we have going on and how do we plan for that future.”

Boyd added that the council is expecting to incorporate new regulations that allow for expedited permitting for property owners looking to incorporate specific resilience techniques into their homes through a program known as Fortified.

Fugate said that further work is being done to create a property database that includes assessed values of structures to give “a much better picture of what our economic exposure is.” That information should be available next summer, said Teresa Crean, URI Coastal Resources Center and Rhode Island Sea Grant extension specialist.

Malcolm Spaulding, URI professor emeritus of ocean engineering and principal of Spaulding Environmental Associates, presented his work on developing what he called a Coastal Environmental Risk Index (CERI) that analyzes the damage to buildings and their contents that would result from flooding (including wave action) and sea level rise. His index includes high-resolution imagery of both topography of coastal areas and of individual structures showing flooding extent, depth, and potential debris. He said the graphics represented the “highest resolution simulations of anyplace in the country.” At present, the index covers the two coastal municipalities of Warwick and Charlestown, and this fall, URI students will add the Misquamicut area of South Kingstown to the index. This proof-of-concept pilot project for Charlestown and Warwick is expected to be completed in 2017, and the strategies to assess risk at the local level will be transferable to other coastal Rhode Island cities and towns.

The Beach SAMP is a project of the Coastal Resources Management Council, Rhode Island Sea Grant, the University of Rhode Island, the URI Coastal Resources Center, and the Rhode Island Geological Survey. See http://www.beachsamp.org/ for more information.