As Super-storm Sandy vividly revealed, many coastal communities, including those along Raritan Bay and Sandy Hook Bay, were not properly prepared to deal with an extreme weather event. From severe winds and floodwaters that led to many people homeless, to extensive power outages in part from flooded sub-power stations or fragile power lines, to faulty sewage treatment plants that discharged millions of gallons of raw sewage into local waters, to hazardous pollutants such as metals and pesticides that washed into wetlands, New Jersey's coastal disaster policy needs a lot of work.
While many coastal communities will never be quite the same as they were, moving forward we have an opportunity to not just rebuild, but to make them safer, sustainable, and more resilient to the increasing likelihood of more intense storms.
First and foremost, people need to learn to live with and better manage water, not just try to hold it back with taller bulkheads. This means improving local protective natural resources which have been so degraded or ignored in the past. We need to restore wetlands, safeguard floodplains, increase the width of beaches, build up dunes higher and vegetate them well with native plants, and increase oyster reef restoration projects, which help to decrease wave strength. This natural safeguard system is sustainable and can be integrated into current artificial buffer systems to protect our coastlines during hurricanes and nor’easters.
Additionally, local zoning ordinances should be strengthened to reduce impervious surfaces and improve infiltration to reduce flooding. Electrical power systems, sewage treatment pump stations, and other infrastructure needs to be improved to deal with sea level rise and stronger winds. State and local governments need to work together to identify properties most at risk from floodwaters and revert them back to a natural state.
It's clear we need a new perspective on emergency management based on greater environmental protection.
Written by Joseph Reynolds, Co-Chair
Bayshore Watershed Council
The Bayshore Watershed Council is an all-volunteer environmental organization made up of citizens, scientists, and policy makers from a variety of coastal communities along Raritan Bay and Sandy Hook Bay. Meetings are open to the public and take place on the 2nd Thursday of every month inside Keyport Borough Hall, at 7:30pm