06/30/2021 - Sea Level Rise - Student Work

State Wetlands Protections and Climate Change Adaptation: A Comparative Study of New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island

by Amelia Keyes, JD 2023

Wetlands provide critical ecological and social benefits to the Northeast United States. In addition to providing habitats for many plant and animal species and destinations for recreational activities, wetlands protect people and infrastructure systems from flooding. As climate change raises sea levels and increases the frequency and severity of storms, wetlands will play an increasingly critical role in limiting damage from floods. However, development activities often require filling in wetlands or altering them in ways that diminish their value for flood mitigation. State wetland protections are therefore an important piece of the Northeast’s climate change adaptation strategy.

Wetlands are ecosystems that are either permanently or seasonally flooded by water and support aquatic vegetation. The Northeast is home to both freshwater and tidal wetlands, which provide important protection from flooding, and will be affected by climate change. Climate change is expected to cause wetland migration and increase flooding in the floodplains surrounding wetlands. Therefore, effective protection strategies must adapt to migrating wetlands and limit development in surrounding floodplains.

In this issue brief, Amelia examines the regulations that protect freshwater and tidal wetlands in three states: New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. As New York considers how to strengthen its wetland protections, it can draw lessons from Connecticut’s and Rhode Island’s regulatory approaches.

Read the complete report here.