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Here’s how to make New Jersey’s flood-prone areas more resilient to climate change

BYLINE: Kitta MacPherson

For years, Rutgers ecologist Brooke Maslo has studied how to redesign flood-prone landscapes so they can better protect the communities they border from the ravages of swollen streams and rivers and rising seas.

State and federal programs that allow flood-prone properties to be acquired from willing owners at fair market value and then cleared of the land represent powerful first steps toward resilience, said Masloassociate professor in the Rutgers Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (SEBS).

But how can communities transform these vacant lands so that they are better able to withstand flooding and bounce back when the waters recede? Maslo, founding member of the new group Rutgers Climate and Energy Institute (RCEI), has an answer for leaders of all 564 of New Jersey municipalities.

“Creating Flood Resilient Landscapes: A Guide for New Jersey Communities” is the product of eight years of research and practical experience by Maslo and his Resilience Team, which includes an interdisciplinary group of Rutgers collaborators, including project coordinator Kathleen Kerwin, and State University researchers from South Dakota, including Jeremiah Bergstrom, Shelbie Smith, Emma. Martin and Alyssa Faber.

“With more than 1,800 miles of coastline and 6,450 miles of rivers in New Jersey, much of New Jersey’s developed land is at risk of being severely impacted by flooding over the next 30 years,” Maslo said. “These challenges can be overcome through resilient landscaping, which is an ecology-centered approach that combines the principles of engineering, ecology and landscape architecture with social sciences to transform acquired properties in public goods. »

Aided by funding from the Resilient NJ program from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and RCEI, Maslo and his interdisciplinary team wrote and produced a free, comprehensive guide available online and in print.

“More and more New Jersey communities are experiencing severe flooding and are looking for solutions for their flood-prone properties,” said Nick Angarone, NJ DEP resilience manager. “Landscaping is an option, and this introduction will be invaluable to municipalities looking to restore vacant land in a way that will improve the resilience of the entire community.”

The manual explains not only how municipal leaders can make flood-prone landscapes more resilient, but also how to fund those efforts, said Maslo, who is also an extension specialist at the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station.

Until now, there were no comprehensive guidelines or best practices for such an approach, Maslo said.

“Here we present a guide that will serve as a guide for creating flood-resilient landscapes in New Jersey communities,” she said. “The guide applies to any landscape resilience project, regardless of size or jurisdiction, and can be applied to the landscape transformation of buyout areas or a flood-prone area within existing open space . »

Flooding – defined as the inundation of typically dry land, occurring when the amount of water exceeds the land’s capacity to absorb it – is not just a coastal problem, nor is it caused solely by severe storms. Nearly all of New Jersey’s 564 municipalities were flooded. Due to climate change, rain

and coastal storms are expected to increase in frequency and severity in the future, which could have lasting impacts on entire neighborhoods, landscapes and natural resources, Maslo said.

This manual is the result of Maslo’s work and a need for technical guidance identified through the DEP Resilient NJ program, which is an assistance program to support local and regional climate resilience planning, and the Blue Acres Programa flood protection program that includes the relocation of families whose homes are subject to repeated flooding and the acquisition of flood-prone properties for use as natural flood storage, parks and community open spaces.

Restoration involves improving a formerly developed plot through soil enrichment and plantings as well as technical interventions to reduce flooding. Native plants and trees can be used to produce pocket parks, meadows or forests. The guide describes specific methods and techniques for designing, implementing and maintaining a sustainable and ecological landscape resilience project.

“Resilient landscapes contribute to overall climate resilience by supporting plants and animals that serve important ecological functions,” Maslo said. “Biodiverse landscapes mitigate flooding, retain soil and protect critical infrastructure, such as hospitals and power plants.

Maslo said she hopes the guide will serve as a national model for action.

Creation of this guide was supported by the Rutgers Climate and Energy Institute, the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, and South Dakota State University, as well as financial assistance from DEP and the U.S. Department of Housing and of urban development through the National Disaster Resilience Competition.

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