Flood concerns in Monmouth's Two Rivers region bring the Coastal and Land Use Planning Board together with residents, for a candid look at what the present and future hold.

The Regional Resilience Project was placed on display at Red Bank's Two River Theater. Board members are helping 15 communities between the Navesink and Shrewsbury Rivers be better informed, and better prepared, and are sharing the results of their research with the aim of better planning.for resilience to natural hazards and sea level rise.

“What were trying to get out of the community is, we need to know from them what’s important to them in this area," said Liz Semple of the Coastal and Land Use Planing Board.

"We are going to be developing three scenario plans. We want a stakeholder-driven process to come up with what the community thinks are their priorities adapting to sea level rise.”

Semple says that three plans are to be developed.

Matt Campo Senior Research Specialist Rutgers University (To the right) Photo Credit: Chris Scali

“We’re going to be doing some evaluation of the coastal hazards, and how the assets that the community tells us are important to them are vulnerable to natural hazards. We’re going to be developing action strategies to respond to threats to the important assets.”

The scenarios will be developed from data collected during a string of open sessions.

“Basically, a no-response or no-change scenario; a more aggressive strategy; and then a moderate strategy. The stakeholder groups will be choosing which avenue or which path they want to take.”

Semple and her colleagues are looking forward to get input from residents of the 15 Monmouth County communities taking part. Semple says they have a lot of community support from administrators and mayors.

It wasn’t a "talking-head" type of meeting; it was hands on and visual, there was a kid’s table with visuals of past wild life and coloring books. I also saw a photo booth where residents took pictures expressing what they love about the Jersey Shore.

Children learning about coastal pollution. Photo Credit Chris Scali

“We’re going to document those through pictures. We have a mapping table where you can come talk to scientist about what the actual threats are. So this is not your typical meeting. It’s supposed to be interactive, and low key, and informative.”

Semple wants everyone to become involved; it’s their communities and their towns that face the threats. She wants them to determine the outcome, and for residents to be excited and understand their value to the results.

“I think it’s easier for the actual public, the general citizen, to understand the science behind sea level rise and coastal hazards, if they can have a one-on-one conversation with a scientist from Rutgers.”

Matt Campo, Senior Research Specialist from Rutgers University, said his team learned a number of different scenarios that can affect water levels in the future.

“[It] ranges from what we do with greenhouse gas emissions, to the way that different oceanographic processes affect the tide. So how much does the ocean affect how high the water is, versus  the moon, versues what we put in the air everyday,” Campo said.

Photo Credit: Chris Scali

Campo added that it's important not to confuse climate with weather. Climate happens over a long period of time, but scientists do know that sea levels are rising more rapidly than in the past.

Scientists are experiencing shallower coastal flooding, nuisance flooding and flooding coming up through storm drains. Scientists view these issues in an effort to understand what those areas will look like 10, 20, 50 years from now.

So I asked Campo if we’re in trouble.

“I think that we don’t have to be," he responded. "There are a number of things that you can do, both small and large to keep us out of trouble.  Those are some things that individuals can do by themselves; that municipalities can work on; that the state can work on. There are anumber of different ways that we can adapt to whatever the future brings."

A close-up of a dirty water drain at the New Jersey Resilience Planning conference. Photo Credit: Chris Scali

Water is going to rise, whether we like it or not. The question is, how fast, and how soon, and how it can be slowed down.  Campo says, one way society can slow it down is by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

But in the meantime, Campo said, we can also begin "thinking about how high we build our roads, thinking about where we build different types of structures, thinking about what we do to maintain wetlands and things like that. Are all things we can do to protect against future tidal flooding or future storms.”

Jersey’s wildlife is absolutely considered when thinking about tidal flooding and future storms.

According to Campo, creatures in the wild are as concerned with the height that water achieves, and the speed at which it rises - just like us.

"So, some of the wildlife can adapt as water gets higher, but what worries them more, or what might affect them more is the speed, which it occurs.” When you're talking about ecology and places such as wetlands, both speed and height matter.

Interactive tables at The Resilience Planning for New Jersey Coastal Communities Conference. (Photo: Credit Chris Scali)

The feedback that Campo would like to hear is, how we want to live now, and in the future.  I asked Campo about planning for a major storm in the Jersey Shore area.

“i think we’re always planning for a major storm" he said. "The state has different emergency managers and other folks who are planning for storms. So that’s something that we do continually, and that’s a good practice. We don’t know when the storms will occur, how they’ll occur and how big they will be.”

A close- up of a horseshoe crab and dolphin fossil. Photo Credit: Chris Scali

It’s important to continue to prepare for those scenarios and longer-term impacts. More than about construction, it's perhaps about how we manage wetlands and working with emergency management.

“It’s not a project that’s all about construction and infrastructure, it’s about a number of different ways that we might adapt to changing the flood hazards and flooding in the future," Campo said.

The more information the public can give on construction, weather preservation and other ideas the better the outcome. The Two Rivers cover 15 municipalities, the Navesink River and Shrewsbury Rivers. In case you missed last week's meeting in Red Bank, another one will be scheduled for later this year.

“We are planning to have this be, not our plan, but the region's plan," Campo said. "So residents are important, business are important. It’s really up to them to create this plan for the region of the future.”

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