Hurricane Sandy has spurred unprecedented policy interest in the U.S. in developing more natural infrastructure (i.e., healthy coastal ecosystems) or hybrid infrastructure approaches that combine both natural and built features for increasing coastal community protection. This talk compares strengths and weaknesses of the protection benefits provided by built, natural, and innovative hybrid approaches, while further discussing the co-benefits provided by these approaches. We also highlight important policy efforts where natural infrastructure is playing a role in natural resource management and policy, particularly along our nation’s coasts, including the President’s Climate Action Plan and the President’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, which has resulted in a federal research agenda on Coastal Green Infrastructure and Ecosystem Services that will be released in Spring 2015.
One of our main findings in this analysis was that, despite the high level policy interest, there remain a number of hurdles to implementing natural or hybrid approaches. For example, built structures have been used for decades and the permitting process for such projects is well-developed and can often be covered under an Army Corps Nation Wide Permit. In comparison, if someone wants to use a living shoreline project typically require application for an individual Clean Water Act 404 permit which takes time. Other hurdles for natural or hybrid approaches include the difficulty of assessing the benefit-cost ratio, the lack of space to implement natural/hybrid approaches, and a lack of expertise on natural or hybrid approaches in the coastal planning and management community.
We conclude that natural and hybrid approaches are an important component of strengthening the resilience of our coastal communities and economies. Not only do these systems provide important storm and erosion protection benefits, they also provide co-benefits, such as water quality improvement, carbon sequestration and storage, fishery habitat, and recreational opportunities, which benefit coastal communities all the time, not just when storms approach. Therefore, in order to more fully implement natural and hybrid approaches, the remaining policy challenges need to be addressed and there is a need for additional projects and monitoring to examine the performance of varying approaches under varying conditions, the costs of natural infrastructure projects, the value of the storm and erosion protection benefits provided, the value of the co-benefits provided, and how this information can be used by decision-makers. These data are critical to facilitate adoption of these approaches in coastal resilience planning and decision-making at all levels.