Research Highlights: Coastal Climate Adaptation in Maine’s Coastal Communities: Governance Mapping for Culvert Management, Winter 2013
A team of researchers from Maine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative is developing new tools to help Maine communities better understand and prepare for the potential local impacts of climate change. Findings could save communities millions of dollars in infrastructure replacement and repair due to extreme weather.
Increasingly intense and frequent storms are striking Maine and New England, causing millions of dollars in damage and threatening fragile ecosystems. Maine’s coastal communities are particularly vulnerable to extreme weather, which can damage infrastructure and property, ecosystems, and local economies that rely on tourism, a key sector of the state’s economy. For instance, the Patriots’ Day Storm of 2007 caused an estimated $22 million in damage to roads and other infrastructure.
Managing more intense and more frequent rainstorms are prime examples of the challenges communities face living in a changing climate. Infrastructure improvements to address these problems, such as the installation of appropriately sized culverts, are expensive and complex. Culvert work, for instance, is regulated and governed by various local, state and federal entities that often have very different missions and responsibilities. This complex governance structure (Figure 1) may impede the ability of neighboring communities similarly affected by extreme weather to work together on effective solutions.
In addition, current climate science and models are often too vague to be useful to local decision makers, little place-based information exists, and rural and urban communities face very different kinds of challenges from extreme weather. As a result of these and other factors, municipalities often lack the information and resources necessary to make key decisions that could help prevent or minimize damage and economic losses from future storms.
Through surveys, focus groups and interviews, the team has been working with coastal communities from Kittery to Eastport to learn more about stakeholders’ needs.
A survey of 71 municipal officials found that damage from extreme weather varies along the coast and that most officials do not expect these damages to decrease in the future (Figure 2). Many officials stress they need better information in two key areas: the potential local effects of more severe weather, and the interconnections between government agencies at all levels overseeing the installation and repair of culverts and other infrastructure.
Team members also have found that communities exhibit variation in their decision processes and planning calendars related to culvert maintenance and replacement. Furthermore, the disruptions caused by culvert malfunction and failures have serious consequences for the local economies—Maine’s coastal counties account for 77% of the state’s total employment (National Ocean Economics Program, 2010). To this end, an alignment of culvert-related decision support at all levels of governance (ranging from regional emergency management agencies, state government, and federal emergency management agency) has the potential to improve community-level preparedness and planning in a changing climate.
- Shaleen Jain, UMaine Civil and Environmental Engineering and Climate Change Institute
- Esperanza Stancioff, UMaine Cooperative Extension and ME Sea Grant
- Alexander Gray, Graduate student, UMaine Ecology and Environmental Science
- Dr. George Jacobson, Office of the Maine State Climatologist
For the most up-to-date information on this project, visit the Maine Climate News website.