2016 N.H. Climate Summit focuses on adaptation

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Roads, dunes, groundwater and fish — N.H.’s infrastructure and natural resources are not immune to the effects of climate change, but adaptation efforts are growing and gaining momentum in the Granite State. That growth was evident at the 2016 N.H. Climate Summit, where more than 115 attendees convened at the Great Bay Discovery Center in Greenland, N.H. on May 13th for a day-long event that focused on “the many faces of adaptation.”

The summit, now in its fifth year, began with a charge from Cory Riley, manager of the Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve: “We need to remain fluid, nimble and adaptable ourselves,” she said, “and we should continue to grow in our connections and learning.”

Representatives from federal, state and local government were in attendance, as well as scientists, town managers and concerned citizens who took notes, asked questions and listened intently throughout the day’s presentations. The summit struck a balance between science and action with underlying themes of planning and “no-regrets decision-making” that will benefit N.H. residents and natural resources alike.

Woman speaks to audience.

Above: Rachel Gittman speaks to the audience about living shorelines vs. shoreline hardening.

With sea levels on the rise — predicted between 1.5 - 6’ by the year 2100 for the state — shoreline erosion will likely be a focus in the coming years. Shoreline hardening through the use of seawalls, bulkheads, riprap revetments or breakwaters is evident in 10 percent of the shoreline between Connecticut and Maine; almost 34% of Rye, N.H., is estimated to have shoreline hardening structures — the largest percentage for ocean-bordering communities in the state. However, the summit’s keynote speaker Rachel Gittman, a post-doctoral researcher at Northeastern University, noted that these structures experience more storm damage and incur more costs than living shorelines — a method of shoreline stabilization that involves plants, sand, and limited use of rocks and other structures. Living shorelines also provide key ecosystem services like carbon storage, filtration of upland runoff and habitat for aquatic and terrestrial species.

Julie LaBranche, senior planner at the Rockingham Planning Commission, discussed a recently conducted vulnerability assessment for coastal N.H. roads and infrastructure zeroes in on the local impacts of flooding. The assessment is intended to help communities make decisions about vital town assets that may need protection or evacuation routes that may need to be reconsidered in the face of new flooding predictions with storm surge and sea-level rise scenarios. In addition, on-the-ground climate adaptation decisions in communities can be guided by recommendations from the N.H. Coastal Risks and Hazards Commission and the N.H. Wildlife Action Plan.

Researchers at UNH are examining the impacts of sea-level rise on groundwater, and their studies indicate that areas around the Pease International Tradeport and Portsmouth are particularly at-risk for rising groundwater levels. Rising groundwater could come into contact with hazardous waste sites or septic systems, which could contaminate drinking water supplies. Researchers are also examining how seasonal load limits on low-volume roads may also be impacted by a compressed winter season.

Man presents woman with award at climate summit.

Above: Chris Keeley presents Kim Reed with the 2016 Coastal Adaptation Workgroup Climate Champion Award.

Almost every summit presenter stressed the importance of flexibility and the incorporation of climate change predictions in planning decisions that affect infrastructure, natural resources and human safety. Kim Reed, the planning and zoning administrator for the town of Rye, is working to help the community get into the FEMA Community Rating System (CRS). The CRS rewards communities that go above and beyond the minimum floodplain requirements for participation in FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program by helping to reduce their home flood insurance rates. Town efforts can include increasing freeboard requirements on homes or keeping open space free of development; these efforts are critical for increasing community resilience. Reed was the recipient of the 2016 Coastal Adaptation Workgroup’s Climate Champion Award for her work in this area, which was announced at the summit.

Man speaks to audience about fisheries in N.H.

Above: Erik Chapman speaks about fisheries and climate change at the summit.

The N.H. commercial fishing industry is facing enormous challenges right now due to a variety of factors.  Many fish species are shifting their geographic distribution toward the poles, so it’s possible that in 20 years, N.H. fishermen may be catching species that are normally found along the southern U.S. coast, said Erik Chapman, N.H. Sea Grant/UNH Cooperative Extension commercial fisheries specialist. Many fish stocks are vulnerable to the combination of fishing pressure and climate change, and ocean acidification is adding to the challenges. Chapman said fishermen will need to diversify their catch and adapt in order to stay in business.

Relating to business, climate change and shifting weather patterns negatively affect commerce, explained Roger Stephenson from Stephenson Strategic Communications. Business owners in N.H. want to be at the table to discuss methods of adaptation to ensure that they can remain resilient and survive disruptive weather events.

“Local is where the magic happens,” Stephenson said.

The City of Dover is working on waterfront development plans that incorporate sea-level rise projections, according to Steve Bird, Dover city planner. The city owns a parcel of land with 1,900 ft. of Cochecho River shoreline that is slated for development, and consultants have worked with Bird and others to design a plan that incorporates a variety of shoreline treatments including granite block steps and natural green space that allow for public access.

Many of the efforts discussed at the N.H. Climate Summit are driven by citizens using science for practical purposes in their communities. Being thoughtful about community efforts and incorporating climate change projections into planning are critical components of a resilient state.

N.H. Sea Grant promotes the wise use, conservation and sustainable development of marine and coastal resources in the state, the region and beyond. Located at the University of New Hampshire, NHSG is part of a national network of programs located in our coastal and Great Lakes states as well as in Puerto Rico and Guam.  


Rebecca Zeiber, N.H. Sea Grant Science Writer