EPA says Md. is at high risk from climate change

January 17, 2009|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

Climate change will produce a sharp increase in storm-related flooding and coastal erosion over the next century in Maryland and the rest of the mid-Atlantic coastal states, affecting both natural and human communities, the federal government said in a report released yesterday.

The 786-page report by the Environmental Protection Agency says that rising sea levels as a result of global warming could worsen current losses of tidal marshes, which are vital spawning and nursery areas for fish and birds. Coastal barrier islands such as Assateague Island near Ocean City, already washed over by the Atlantic during intense storms, are likely to be permanently broken through by pounding waves.

With up to 10 percent of the region's population living on land that is less than three feet above high tide now, hurricanes and other severe weather could produce more frequent flooding of roads, railroads and airports, the EPA said, and could have major impacts on ports and shipping. Nearly a third of Maryland's port areas - mainly in Baltimore - could be flooded if sea level rises up to two feet, an increase well within the range of forecasts for the next century.

The EPA report highlights how Maryland is among the most vulnerable places in the country to rising sea levels, says Donald F. Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. Boesch said storm-driven beach erosion at Ocean City and flooding of low-lying areas on both shores of the bay are likely to become more frequent and severe.

The study says too many communities at risk from a rising sea level are still are not addressing the threat, but it does note that Maryland has taken some steps to adapt.

The legislature passed a law last year aimed at discouraging shoreline erosion controls that would prevent new marshes from forming as sea level rises. Worcester County also has adopted a policy of steering new development away from coastal lands likely to be flooded more often in the future, said Zoe Johnson, manager of climate change planning and policy for the state Department of Natural Resources.

The report can be read online at epa.gov/climatechange/effects/coastal/sa p4-1.html.

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