Hawaii study: Impacts of sea level rise already being felt — and it will only get worse

Hawaii study: Impacts of sea level rise already being felt — and it will only get worse
Updated: Dec. 21, 2017 at 10:32 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A new report is providing the first statewide assessment of the potential hazards and costly impacts to Hawaii's economy and shorelines with rising sea levels.

It's the first report by the Hawaii Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Commission, which was established in 2014.

The document says studies predict global sea levels could rise more than three feet by year 2100, with more recent projections showing this magnitude of sea level rise occurring as early as year 2060.

Hawaii researchers who worked on the report say if nothing is done to prepare for the inevitable rise in sea levels, the consequences will be devastating for the state.

"Between two feet and three feet of sea level rise, normal summer waves on the south shore suddenly go from flooding the first row of houses to flooding the first two blocks of houses," said Chip Fletcher, professor and associate dean at UH Manoa's School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.

Key takeaways from the report:

  • Over the next 30 to 70 years, approximately 6,500 structures and 19,800 people statewide will be exposed to chronic flooding.
  • An estimated $19 billion in economic loss would result from chronic flooding of land and structures located in the sea level rise exposure area.
  • The statewide sea level rise exposure area covers an area of approximately 25,800 acres -- one third of which is designated for urban use.
  • Approximately 38 miles of coastal roads would be chronically flooded and become impassible, jeopardizing critical access to many communities.
  • Approximately 550 cultural sites would become chronically flooded with the sea level rise exposure area.
  • More than 13 miles of beaches have been lost on Kauai, Oahu, and Maui to erosion fronting seawalls and other shoreline armoring.
  • Flooding, hurricanes, and tropical cyclones could occur at any time and would be exacerbated by sea level rise.

In Waikiki, where the beaches are already experiencing heavy erosion, visitor industry leaders say finding a long-term solution is critical.

"We know that we're going to need to update some of the old infrastructure and all this work is going to cost millions of dollars," said Rick Egged, President of the Waikiki Improvement Association. "For example, Miami Beach is raising the level of its roads and that's probably going to happen here sometime in the future."

The commission will be meeting Thursday at the Department of Land and Natural Resources to discuss the report. Once approved, the report will be given to state and county leaders to improve policy and land use laws to better protect Hawaii's communities from rising water levels.

"This is a significant change because now we can quantify it and we know just how fast we actually have to take action," said State Rep. Chris Lee, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection.

To read the full study, click here.

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