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New Jersey Climate News

News Aggregation from the NJ Climate Change Resource Center

Governor Murphy tours storm damage in Hillsborough after Topical Storm Ida


Here’s How to Make Flood-Prone Areas in New Jersey More Resilient to Climate Change

Rutgers professor creates free, comprehensive guide for municipalities based on extensive research

KITTA MACPHERSON / RUTGERS TODAY – For years, Rutgers ecologist Brooke Maslo has studied how to redesign flood-prone landscapes so they can best protect the communities they border from the ravages of swollen brooks and rivers and rising seas.

State and federal programs that enable the acquisition of flood-prone properties from willing homeowners at fair market value and then clear the land represent powerful first steps toward resilience, said Maslo, an associate professor with the Rutgers Department of Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (SEBS).

But how can communities transform this vacant land, so it is better able to withstand flooding and rebound when the waters recede? Maslo, a founding member of the newly established Rutgers Climate and Energy Institute (RCEI), has an answer for the leaders of all 564 of New Jersey’s municipalities.

“Creating Flood-Resilient Landscapes: A Primer for New Jersey Communities” is the product of eight years of research and practical experience by Maslo and her resilience team, which includes an interdisciplinary group of collaborators from both Rutgers, including Project Coordinator Kathleen Kerwin, and South Dakota State University researchers, 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 affected by flooding over the next 30 years,” Maslo said. “These challenges can be overcome through resilient landscape designs, which is an ecologically centered approach that combines principles of engineering, ecology and landscape architecture with social science to transform acquired properties into public assets.”

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

“More New Jersey communities than ever before are grappling with severe flooding and looking for solutions for their flood-prone properties,” said Nick Angarone, NJ DEP’s Chief Resilience Officer. “Landscape design is one option, and this primer will be invaluable to municipalities seeking to restore vacant land in a way that will enhance the resilience of the entire community.”

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

Until now, all-inclusive guidelines or best practices for such an approach haven’t existed, Maslo said.

“We present here a primer that will serve as a guide for creating flood-resilient landscapes across the communities of New Jersey,” she said. “The primer applies to any landscape resilience project regardless of size or jurisdiction and can be applied to 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 ability of the land to absorb it – isn’t just a coastal problem, nor does it occur only because of severe storms. Nearly all of New Jersey’s 564 municipalities have been flooded. Because of climate change, rain and coastal storms are predicted to increase in frequency and severity in the future, leading to the potential for lasting impacts on entire neighborhoods, landscapes and natural resources, Maslo said.

Preparing floodplain area for flood mitigation

Before and after: A former residential property in Woodbridge, N.J., is redesigned according to the principles of a new primer. (Top) Rutgers personnel apply herbicide to an invasive species, Phragmites. (Bottom) One year later, native trees grow in special shelters and wildflowers bloom, freed from the onslaught of invasive species.
Photo credit: Kathleen Kerwin/Rutgers University

The primer 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 program, a flood protection program that includes relocating families whose homes are subject to repeated flooding and acquiring flood-prone property for use as natural flood storage, parks, and community open space.

Restoration involves enhancing a formerly developed parcel through soil enrichment and plantings as well as engineering interventions to reduce flooding. Native plants and trees can be used to produce pocket parks, meadows or woodlands. The primer outlines specific methods and techniques for designing, implementing and maintaining a sustainable, ecologically based landscape resilience project.

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

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

Creation of the primer was supported by the Rutgers Climate and Energy Institute, the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station and South Dakota State University, and with financial assistance from the DEP and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development through the National Disaster Resilience Competition.

Meet the Climate Corps

Angel Alguera, Rutgers Climate CorpsAngel Alguera
I am a first-year Atmospheric Science master’s degree student in the Department of Environmental Sciences, and my work focuses on meteorology and applications of climate change resiliency. My professional interests include severe weather forecasting and community preparedness regarding weather-related disasters. I work with Dr. James Shope at the NJ Climate Change Resource Center to produce applied research and reports relevant to New Jersey stakeholders. I currently assist with climate change data analysis, large dataset management, and report writing.

Daniel GilkesonDaniel Gilkeson
I’m a second-year master’s student in the City and Regional Planning Program with a concentration in environmental planning. As a planner, I hope to build more resilient communities in the face of increased risk due to climate change. With the Climate Change Resource Center, I am working on a project to aid the state in an update of its floodplain buyout program, known as Blue Acres, to be more proactive and comprehensive. Prior to this position, I interned in the Community and Economic Development Office at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Association. I’m also an AmeriCorps alum, having completed a year of service working on affordable housing in Nashville, Tennessee.

Benjamin GoldbergBenjamin Goldberg
I am a second-year Master of City and Regional Planning student concentrating in climate adaptation and resiliency planning, with experience in sustainable food systems. I joined the Climate Corps last summer to help develop a GIS-based food waste recovery tool, and currently support community resilience through flood vulnerability analysis. I hold a B.A. from Middlebury College and a Certificate in Ecological Horticulture from UC Santa Cruz.

Surya Jacob, Rutgers Climate CorpsSurya Jacob
I am a graduate student in the Master of City and Regional Planning program at the Bloustein School concentrating in community development, focused on housing, land and finance, as well as pursuing the Real Estate Development/Redevelopment Certification. Prior to Bloustein, I worked as an architect and interior designer in India and Canada and am pivoting towards a career in urban planning to engage in extensive projects at the macro level. My interests include affordable and mixed income housing, urban redevelopment, and housing finance, and I am deeply passionate about climate resilience in community planning. Being part of Climate Corps is a foundational step towards helping to solve equity issues in vulnerable communities along the coastal region.

Vineesh Das Kodakkandathil, RutgersVineesh Das Kodakkandathil
I am an urban planner with five years of professional experience in community-led ecotourism development and land use and environment management planning in ecologically sensitive areas. I have worked on and conducted extensive environmental sensitivity analyses, flood and landslide vulnerability assessments, and human impact assessments with the help of GIS tools. I’m currently pursuing my master’s in City and Regional Planning at Bloustein School with a concentration in Transport Planning and GIS.

Douglas LeungDouglas Leung
I am working with the Climate Change Resource Center to identify vulnerable communities and places affected by climate-induced flooding in coastal New Jersey municipalities. I am a Master of City and Regional Planning candidate at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. As a planner, I want to develop strategies and solve problems affecting our cities and communities that enable more equitable outcomes in housing and transportation. I am also a recent Army veteran, having served as a company commander of recruiting in the northern suburbs of Chicago and as a reconnaissance platoon leader in the 10th Mountain Division. For fun, I enjoy weightlifting, running, reading fiction, and board games.

Nihar MhatreNihar Mhatre
I am a master’s candidate in city and regional planning at Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, focusing on urban design and land use planning. Before being accepted at Rutgers, I worked as an architect at JD Studio and had my own architectural practice, Vastu Insights. My research interests revolve around designing and developing climate change adaptation and resilience strategies to promote equity in urban landscapes. Having the opportunity to work on real-world projects through Climate Corps will be an essential step in the development of my understanding of addressing climate change issues in vulnerable regions.

Justin MorrisJustin Morris
Justin is a master’s student at Rutgers University studying discovery informatics and data sciences. He is working under Professor Mark Rodgers to develop an optimization model that will act as a decision support tool for university financial investments with the end goal of eliminating Rutgers’ scope 2 emissions. He is excited to apply his background in data analytics and mathematical programming to help the university fight climate change.

Josephine O'GradyJosephine O’Grady
I am a first-year student in the Master of Public Policy program. Through the Coastal Climate Risk and Resilience (C2R2) certification, I am focusing a significant portion of my graduate coursework on topics including coastal geomorphology, environmental justice, and hazard mitigation planning. Before beginning my studies at the Bloustein School, I received my bachelor’s degree in public health from Kean University, where I first became interested in how coastal dynamics shape lived experiences. I previously served as an intern at the New Jersey State Policy Lab and currently work for the Megalopolitan Coastal Transformation Hub (MACH) team.

Jessica Parineet Jessica Parineet
I am a first-year Master of Public Policy student at the Bloustein School with a strong interest in climate change policy and related topics. In my previous work, I gained experience in a number of dimensions of climate change issues through carbon capture storage research, urban heat island research, and community level engagement as I am currently on the Student Advisory Board for the Rutgers Office of Climate Action. I am excited to expand on my interests in environmental justice and local level resilience planning through my involvement in the Climate Corps.

Dillon Patel Dillan Patel
I am a second-year Master of City and Regional Planning student concentrating in Environmental Planning and International Development. I have previously worked as an economist performing cost-benefit analysis and conducting monitoring and evaluation for renewable energy in developing countries. I have also spent a summer in western Massachusetts mapping stormwater infrastructure and working with planners to identify suitable places for green stormwater infrastructure.

Moira Sweeder, Rutgers Climate CorpsMoira Sweeder
I am a graduate student enrolled in the Master of City and Regional Planning program at the Bloustein School. My concentration is environmental planning with a focus on coastal resilience. Before pursuing my master’s degree at Rutgers, I studied sustainability at Stockton University. During this time, I interned for the PSEG Institute of Sustainability Studies, the Jacques Cousteau National Estuary Research Reserve, and NJ Audubon. I am thrilled to now be a part of the Climate Corps, researching coastal resilience as a part of the Megalopolitan Coastal Transformation Hub (MACH) team.

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