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These are the cities on the south coast threatened by rising sea levels


Time

A 10-year-old storm could flood more than a quarter of Wareham’s buildings by 2050, the report notes.

An egret (right) joined fishermen on the Cape Cod Canal at Buzzards Bay. Many anglers use bicycles to navigate the canal while looking for activity.

Rising tides are expected to inundate several communities along the south coast over the next 30 years, impacting the fishing industry and further eroding the iconic and ecologically rich salt marshes, according to a new report.

The report, by non-profit conservation organization The Trustees of Reservations, examines the impacts of rapidly rising water levels along the coast. Daily high tides are expected to rise 2.6 feet by 2050 and more than 4 feet by 2070, the group reported.

The Trustees’ third annual ‘State of the Coast’ report examines the 14 towns that border Buzzards Bay and Narragansett Bay. In addition to rising tides, the south coast is expected to experience more frequent and intense storms if carbon emissions remain high, the report said.

Which cities are most at risk?

The towns of Wareham, Bourne, Marion and Mattapoisett are particularly vulnerable, given their position at the terminal end of Buzzards Bay.

“As storms enter the bay, a ‘funnel’ effect forces more water across the bay and into low-rise neighborhoods and downtown areas,” the report explains.

More than 13,000 structures around Buzzards Bay could be flooded in a 10-year storm, with more than half in Wareham and Bourne alone. Due to Wareham’s location and low infrastructure, a 10-year-old storm could flood more than a quarter of all buildings in the town as early as 2050, the report notes.

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“We’re trying to kick-start economic development, but with that comes responsibility for climate change, sea level rise and what we’re doing for the coastline,” said the director of planning and of Wareham Community Development, Kenneth Buckland, in the report.

Impacts vary by community; New Bedford, for example, has a mid-1960s hurricane barrier designed to keep the water in the harbor below a certain level and protect the harbor from large storms.

High tides could mean the hurricane barrier closes more frequently – possibly as much as once or twice a day by 2050, if the barrier is closed at the same water level as it is today. In comparison, the barrier closed a total of 26 times in 2019.

Cities exposed to the open ocean, such as Westport and Dartmouth, will see infrastructure damage, flooding and increased erosion from storms and wave energy, administrators noted.

What will happen to the fish?

Rising seas also endanger salt marshes, which allow the landscape to follow higher water levels and play a role in slowing climate change through carbon sequestration. The South Coast marsh is disappearing or converting much faster than in other parts of Massachusetts, with a loss of 23% of the total marsh projected by 2050, according to the report.

Administrators also predicted beach erosion, as well as declining water quality due to rising floodwaters, rising water temperatures and stormwater runoff. The result: devastating effects on fish, shellfish and other animals that depend on coastal ecosystems.

Ultimately, rising waters leave those on the south coast with tough decisions to make.

“For some residents and business owners, retirement may be the only viable option when adaptation is not possible or realistic due to the frequency or magnitude of flooding,” the report said.

Addressing the boston globeBuckland also mentioned the possibility of retirement.

“Where people can afford it, we need to consider removing and relocating properties, relocating people out of the floodplain,” he said.

Those decisions will largely be left to owners and their bankers, and whether they can justify further investment “before the seas start lapping at their doorstep,” he told the World.



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