Coastal Communities Face Rising Sea Wall Costs

More than fifty percent of Americans live in coastal counties, where key infrastructure and evacuation routes are increasingly vulnerable to things like higher sea levels, storm surges and flooding. In 2013, Climate Central released a report on sea level rise that showed there was about $156 billion worth of property and 300,000 homes, on 2,120 square miles of land that is less than three feet above the high tide line in Florida. The National Climate Assessment found that more than $1 trillion of property and structures in the U.S. are at risk of inundation from sea level rise of two feet above current sea level, an elevation that could be reached by 2050.

Florida’s 1,197 miles of coastline most of it is only three feet above the rising ocean levels. The geology of the state makes it vulnerable to seawater encroachment. Billions of dollars’ worth of buildings, roads and infrastructure lie on highly porous limestone that leaches water. It is predicted that South Florida will be under six feet or more of water before the end of the century due to rising sea levels.

In June, a new report was released by the Center for Climate Integrity Center in partnership with the engineering firm, Resilient Analytics. The first-of-its-kind report is titled, “High Tide Tax: The Price to Protect Coastal Communities from Rising Seas. It includes first-ever cost estimates for sea-level rise adaptation and rankings by coastal cities, counties, states, and congressional districts in the contiguous U.S.

Using moderate (not worst-case) sea-level rise projections for the year 2040 and storm surge expected to be seen every year, the report identified 132 counties where costs will exceed $1 billion, and 14 states where costs for these minimal defenses will exceed $10 billion.

The rankings of the top ten states according to the report are:

1. Florida $75,898,048,000
2. Louisiana $38,431,868,000
3. North Carolina $34,838,128,000
4. Virginia $31,207,175,000
5. Maryland $27,414,762,000
6. New Jersey $24,985,408,000
7. Washington $23,892,865,000
8. California $21,999,799,000
9. South Carolina $20,061,030.000
10. Texas $19,279,011,000

Florida is by far the most heavily impacted state, with costs reaching nearly $76 billion statewide; 23 counties facing at least $1 billion in seawall expenses alone; and 24 communities where building just this rudimentary level of coastal protection will cost more than $100,000 per person.

“Our collective failure to come to grips with the massive costs of climate adaptation is the latest, and most delusional form of climate denial,” said Richard Wiles, Executive Director of the Center for Climate Integrity.

“The cost estimates presented here are just a small portion of the total adaptation costs these local and state governments will be forced to finance,” said Paul Chinowsky, PhD, lead engineer on the project.

To read the full report and view the full data set, which includes cost estimates for 2040, 2060, 2100 as well as other RCP and storm surge scenarios, please visit:

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