Given the range of impacts that could occur as a result of sea level rise, adaptation strategies will need to be used in order to effectively address coastal hazard risks and protect coastal resources. There are many types of adaptation options that can help minimize the adverse impacts of sea level rise. For example, adaptation strategies may involve project modifications, permit conditions to trigger future actions, retrofits to existing structures, or updates to land use plans or other planning documents to better ensure avoidance or minimization of risks and the protection of coastal resources over time. Some strategies might focus on how to address longer-run impacts now, such as ensuring that critical infrastructure is built to last a long time without being put in danger, while other actions may address a short-term risk while long-term adaptation planning is carried out. Despite the various types of available approaches, adaptation strategies should be chosen based on the specific risks and vulnerabilities of a region or project site and the applicable Coastal Act and Local Coastal Program (LCP) requirements, with due consideration of local priorities and goals.
To learn more about adaptation strategies to consider in LCP and Coastal Development Permit (CDP) planning and review processes, explore the sections on this page by clicking on headers to view expanded content.
There are a number of options for how to address the risks and impacts associated with sea level rise. Choosing to “do nothing” or following a policy of “non-intervention” may be considered an adaptive response, but in most cases, the strategies for addressing sea level rise hazards will require proactive planning to ensure protection of coastal resources and development. Proactive adaptation strategies generally fall into three main categories: protect, accommodate, and retreat. In many cases, a hybrid approach that uses strategies from multiple categories will be necessary, and the suite of strategies chosen may need to change over time. For purposes of implementing the Coastal Act, no single category or even specific strategy should be considered the “best” option as a rule. Appropriate adaptation strategies will differ by each location based on local hazard management and resource protection goals and the legal context.
Protection strategies employ some sort of engineered structure or other measure to defend development (or other resources) in its current location without changes to the development itself. Protection strategies can be further divided into “hard” and “soft” defensive measures or armoring. Although the Coastal Act provides for potential protection strategies for “existing development” in certain situations, it also directs that environmental impacts shall be avoided or mitigated and that new development shall be sited and designed to not require future protection that may alter a natural shoreline.
Accommodation strategies refer to those strategies that employ methods that modify existing developments or design new developments to decrease hazard risks. Examples of accommodation strategies at the individual project scale include retrofits such as elevating structures, using materials meant to increase the strength of development, or building structures that can easily be relocated when they become threatened. On a community-scale, examples of some accommodation strategies include any of the land use designations, zoning ordinances, or other measures that require the above types of actions.
Retreat strategies are those strategies that relocate or remove existing development out of hazard areas and limit the construction of new development in vulnerable areas. These strategies include land use designations and zoning ordinances that encourage building in less hazardous areas or gradually removing and relocating existing development.
Local governments should use adaptation measures that best implement the statewide resource protection and hazard policies of the Coastal Act at the local level given the diverse geography and conditions of different areas. Some adaptation strategies will need to be implemented incrementally over time as conditions change, and many strategies will need to be implemented through both the LCP and CDP processes to be effective. Additionally, sea level rise planning may involve a number of trade-offs among various competing interests, and no single adaptation strategy will be able to accomplish all planning objectives. The important point is to analyze current and future risks from sea level rise, determine local priorities and goals for protection of coastal resources and development in light of Coastal Act requirements, and identify what land use designations, zoning ordinances, and other adaptation strategies can be used to meet those goals.
Click on each of the coastal resource categories below for examples of adaptation strategies that local governments and coastal planners should consider including in their LCPs or individual CDPs. For additional information on adaptation strategies, see Chapter 7 of the Sea Level Rise Policy Guidance.
The Coastal Act requires that new development be sited and designed to be safe from hazards and to not adversely impact coastal resources (Coastal Act Sections 30235 and 30253). Potential sea level rise impacts to coastal development covered in Chapter 3 of the Guidance includes increased likelihood of property damage and threats to public infrastructure from flooding, inundation, or extreme waves, among many other impacts. Example goals and adaptation strategies related to hazards and coastal development are highlighted below:
See Chapter 7 of the Sea Level Rise Policy Guidance for additional examples of adaptation options that can be incorporated into LCP policies and CDP conditions to address the coastal development and hazards goals of the Coastal Act.
One of the highest priorities in the Coastal Act is the mandate to maximize public access and recreational opportunities to and along the coast. Some sea level rise threats to public access and recreation include increased flooding, inundation, and/or erosion of beaches, recreational areas, and trails, and decreases in public access due to loss of beaches that cannot naturally migrate inland because of development or resistant landforms. Example goals and adaptation strategies related to public access and recreation are highlighted below:
See Chapter 7 of the Sea Level Rise Policy Guidance for additional examples of adaptation options that can be incorporated into LCP policies and CDP conditions to address the access and recreation goals of the Coastal Act.
The Coastal Act provides for the protection of both land and marine habitats. It mandates that environmentally sensitive habitat areas (ESHA) and marine resources shall be protected against significant disruption of habitat value and shall be maintained, enhanced, and restored as feasible (Sections 30230, 30233, 30240, 30240(a), 30240(b)). Some examples of sea level rise threats to coastal habitats include habitat conversion and inability for habitats to migrate inland over the long-term due to barriers such as sea walls. Example goals and adaptation strategies related to coastal habitats, ESHA, and wetlands are highlighted below:
See Chapter 7 of the Sea Level Rise Policy Guidance for additional examples of adaptation options that can be incorporated into LCP policies and CDP conditions to address the coastal habitats, ESHA, and wetlands goals of the Coastal Act.
Agriculture is a priority use within the Coastal Act, which mandates that the maximum amount of prime agricultural land shall be protected and maintained (Sections 30231, 30241, 30242). Sea level rise threats to agriculture include flooding or inundation of low-lying agricultural areas and saltwater intrusion of groundwater supplies needed for agricultural use. Example goals and adaptation strategies related to agricultural resources are highlighted below:
See Chapter 7 of the Sea Level Rise Policy Guidance for additional examples of adaptation options that can be incorporated into LCP policies and CDP conditions to address the agricultural protection goals of the Coastal Act.
The main water quality protection policy of the Coastal Act requires minimizing the adverse effects of wastewater discharges, runoff, and groundwater depletion in order to protect the biological productivity and quality of coastal waters, as described in Section 30231. Sea level rise impacts to water quality and supply include increased runoff, wastewater discharge, and saltwater intrusion into groundwater sources from sea level rise. Example goals and adaptation strategies related to water quality and supply are highlighted below:
See Chapter 7 of the Sea Level Rise Policy Guidance for additional examples of adaptation options that can be incorporated into LCP policies and CDP conditions to address the water quality and supply goals of the Coastal Act.
The Coastal Act provides for the protection of archaeological and paleontological resources. Certified LCPs should already have policies and standards to ensure that these resources are protected to the maximum extent feasible. See Chapter 7 of the Sea Level Rise Policy Guidance for examples of adaptation options through updates of both LCP policies and CDP conditions that have been designed to support the protection of archaeological and paleontological resources vulnerable to sea level rise.