Expanding Technical Assistance for Coastal Communities

Stitched together, the coastline of the United States, including along the Great Lakes, extends for more than 95,000 miles. Roughly half of our population lives along the coast, making coastal states the most densely populated, most developed, and fastest growing. 

While there are many draws to living on the coast, an increasing number of coastal communities are finding themselves on the front line of climate-driven impacts. They face an array of hazards ranging from more intense and frequent coastal storms, associated inundation, high winds and storm surges, tidal flooding, sea level rise, shoreline erosion, land subsidence, and saltwater intrusion into freshwater sources, among others. Some of the associated impacts include damage to property and infrastructure, degraded natural areas, local land loss, contaminated drinking water, and threats to public health and safety.

Preserve, Protect, Develop, and Restore

In 1972, Congress recognized the importance of meeting the challenges associated with rapid growth along our nation’s coasts by passing the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA). The purpose of the CZMA and its three component programs is to “preserve, protect, develop, and where possible, to restore or enhance the resources of the nation’s coastal zone.”

Of those programs, the National Coastal Zone Management Program (CZMP) is “designed to assist coastal states and territories in protecting, restoring, and responsibly developing our nation’s diverse coastal communities, and it provides a basis for addressing some of our most pressing coastal issues, including climate change, ocean planning, and planning for energy facilities and development”.

The CZMP is a voluntary partnership between the federal government and U.S. coastal and Great Lakes states and territories. All 35 coastal and Great Lakes states and territories (except Alaska) participate in the National Coastal Zone Management Program. On the Federal side, the program is administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with each state and territory administering their CZMP through one or more state agencies. 

State Coastal Zone Management Programs (CZMPs) are the primary and often the only consistent source of community technical assistance for local decision makers, businesses, and private property owners that are struggling to cope with the ever-increasing impacts from coastal hazards. 

This technical assistance can include collaborating with local communities and partners to identify vulnerabilities, assisting with implementing local ordinances and navigating state and federal regulations, project development, and helping to develop proposals to fund those projects. 

Expanding Impact

Given the breadth of issues and concerns facing coastal communities, in conjunction with limited program budgets, many CZMPs face limitations in their capacity to deliver community technical assistance. The National Wildlife Federation recognizes these limitations as a serious obstacle to enhancing the resilience of our Nation’s coastlines.

In response, the National Wildlife Federation is collaborating with a longtime partner, the Coastal States Organization (CSO), to develop a suite of strategies aimed at expanding the breadth of community technical assistance provided by CZMPs. CSO plays a critical role in representing and advocating on behalf of all our Nation’s CZMPs on Capitol Hill. 

The strategies that NWF and CSO have collaboratively developed include working with CZMPs to provide additional on-the-ground support, providing direct services to coastal communities based on their specific needs, and working with these communities to identify and fund projects to reduce the impacts of coastal hazards. This important partnership provides an opportunity to “scale up” our outcomes by understanding the varying needs of CZMPs and delivering tailored assistance that directly benefits our nation’s coastal communities.