Environmental investments are paying off for a California county where projects designed to restore the natural environment are also mitigating the impacts of sea level rise, according to a new study by Stanford researchers. The research, published June 9 in Urban sustainability, shows that nature-based solutions, such as marsh conservation and beach restoration, can be as effective as concrete seawalls in protecting against sea level rise while providing additional benefits. These benefits, such as recreational opportunities, climate change mitigation through carbon storage, and reduced nutrient pollution, are prompting policy makers to prioritize nature-based solutions for uplift. sea ​​level.

“We’re discovering new benefits from decisions that have already been made about conservation or restoration efforts,” said study lead author Anne Guerry, chief strategy officer and chief science officer of the Natural Capital Project. ‘Stanford University. “Our models show how communities can reap greater benefits by investing more in nature.”

Guerry co-authored an article last year showing how traditional approaches to combating sea level rise can create a domino effect of environmental and economic impacts for nearby communities. The new research is the product of a partnership between San Mateo County, the San Francisco Estuary Institute and the Stanford Natural Capital Project to develop a concrete science-based plan to combat rising sea levels. the sea.

Modeling solutions

Using inputs from stakeholder workshops and scientific explorations of the suitability of stretches of shoreline for the restoration of different coastal habitats, researchers modeled three sea level rise adaptation scenarios. Scenario one envisioned the county’s entire San Francisco Bay coastline lined with concrete seawalls, a traditional solution for holding back the sea. Scenario two envisioned conservation and restoration projects currently underway or in various stages of planning in the county, such as the rehabilitation of salt ponds and the addition of a beach in front of a dike. The third scenario explored additional and feasible nature-based projects, such as marsh protection and restoration of seagrass beds and native oyster beds along the coastline.

The team used InVEST, the free and open-source software from the Natural Capital Project, to model the incremental benefits that could accrue to people from the county’s sea-level rise adaptation options. They found that conservation and restoration projects would provide up to eight times the benefits of traditional solutions while providing the same level of flood protection. For example, the results showed that the nature-based solutions being implemented today would result in six times the reduction in stormwater pollution compared to the scenario that used traditional concrete dikes. The third scenario, which proposed additional nature-based projects, would result in eight times the reduction in stormwater pollution than traditional approaches, a crucial benefit for keeping the waters of the bay clean.

Researchers met with residents, community groups and other government agency staff to jointly develop guiding principles for the county’s sea level rise adaptation planning. Among them: Prioritizing nature-based actions; use an inclusive, fair and community-based process to make decisions; and rigorously follow the process to reduce vulnerability, risks and impacts.

“Because we engaged with government and other stakeholders, our results will be more useful to decision makers across the county,” Guerry said. “At the regional level, there is a lot of enthusiasm for nature-based solutions. We hope that this work can help build momentum and adapt approaches to places where they will be effective as long-term solutions for sea ​​level rise.”

Anne Guerry is also a senior research associate at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. Other co-authors on the paper are Stanford Natural Capital Project researchers Jess Silver, Katherine Wyatt, Katherine Arkema, Perrine Hamel, Robert Griffin, and Stacie Wolny; San Francisco Estuary Institute researchers Julie Beagle, Jeremy Lowe and Ellen Plane; and San Mateo County staff Marcus Griswold, Hilary Papendick and Jasneet Sharma.

This research was funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Marianne and Marcus Wallenberg Foundation.

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Material provided by Stanford University. Original written by Sarah Cafasso. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.