Is Brooklyn the New Venice? Study Shows Sea Level Rise Could Inundate Borough

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    Hurricane Sandy was a wakeup call. If Brooklyn doesn’t act quickly, water levels could rise six feet by the end of the century — meaning thousands of people will lose their homes and the Navy Yard and other coastal areas will be under water — according to a new study.

    Brooklynites need to prepare and create plans for long term flooding caused by sea level rise over time, not just that caused by hurricanes and other storms, according to the Regional Planning Association, an independent urban planning and advocacy nonprofit that promotes improvements in infrastructure and sustainability in the tri-state area.

    Under Water: How Sea Level Rise Threatens the Tri-State Region focuses on permanent inundation from sea level rise, not temporary flooding from storm surges. It identifies areas at risk for permanent flooding with one-, three-, and six-foot sea-level rises, and what can be done.

    Sea Level Rise Is Imminent in Brooklyn

    The study states that sea level rise is like a canary in a coal mine, and coastal communities like Brooklyn would be wise to heed early warnings. The problem with a slow rise in sea level is that if it doesn’t happen all at once (like Sandy’s flooding), it might not be noticed at all. At just one foot of sea level rise — which could happen as early as 2050, in just 35 years — the effects might not be noticeable in many areas of the borough except for those that border Jamaica Bay and other enclosed estuaries. But with much development on Brooklyn’s waterfronts, this is a definite concern.

    The longer term prediction is a bit more grim. By the end of the 21st century, water levels could rise as much as six feet. Communities like Red Hook, Sheepshead Bay, Sunset Park, Manhattan Beach, Brighton Beach, and Coney Island would be inundated by water and infrastructure (from subways to highways) damaged beyond repair. Major job sites like the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Sunset Park industrial areas would face “near total inundation.” In Sheepshead Bay alone, 16,700 Brooklynites would be located in a flood zone with six feet of sea level rise.

    Brooklyn Needs a Permanent Prevention Plan

    Brooklyn is built near one of the world’s largest natural harbors (New York Bay) and thus, is naturally susceptible to flooding due to the bay’s funnel-like shape. However, until Hurricane Sandy’s devastating and sudden effects, many New Yorkers weren’t as aware of the threats of water rise as perhaps they should have been. New York City’s government has outlined a number of evacuation zones throughout the city, and nearly all of Brooklyn’s waterfront areas lie within them. However, these zones correspond to storm flooding susceptibility at the current time, and do not take sea level rise into account. As the sea level rises, storm surge will become even higher, and will threaten more of the borough.

    Brooklyn, the city, and the state have begun to take some steps in the right direction. Earlier in 2016, city officials presented three $100 million plans to protect Red Hook from future flooding after Sandy’s devastating effects. Additionally, the New York CRRA (Community Risk and Resiliency Act) and the city’s Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency have planned for coastal defenses in Brooklyn neighborhoods in areas like Red Hook, Sea Gate and others.

    Brooklyn Needs to Act Fast

    The study also outlines the fact that if something isn’t done soon, Brooklyn is going to be waterlogged. It lists six steps towards abating sea level rise in the area (and borough), which are as follows:

    • Reduce carbon emissions
    • Plan for sea level rise on all levels of government down to community groups
    • Know the risks involved and how real they are
    • Fund programs against sea level rise
    • Implement resilience projects
    • Protect those who are vulnerable against flooding

    The first effects of permanent sea level rise in the borough can be expected in the next 15 to 20 years. The Regional Planning Association promises to explore the steps in further detail in a study next year — but what is clear is that Brooklyn is at risk for permanent flooding in the near future and something innovative and permanent needs to be done in order to protect the borough, its buildings, and its residents.

    Brooklyn has been one of the fastest developing areas in the nation over the past decade plus, with lots of new construction and development popping up all over the borough. However, keeping back the forces of nature, in this case, a rising ocean, is often a losing battle. However, with some planning, according to the report, the worst effects can be mitigated, and Brooklyn can potentially save thousands of residences from inundation and a watery destruction.

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