Regional Plan Association released a study showing that parts of the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut metropolitan area are at risk of being permanently flooded by sea level rise. The study, Under Water: How Sea Level Rise Threatens the Tri-State Region, details the severe threats posed to the region’s bay areas, coastal urban centers, beach communities and airports and seaports by as little as one foot of sea level rise, a possibility as soon as the 2030s.

With sea level rise accelerating, scientists now predict that the region could face up to six feet of sea level rise early in the next century. Federal, state and local resilience policies have focused primarily on the effects of storm surge, and fall short of adequately addressing the long-term threat of permanent flooding, the study says.

Sea level rise already has begun to affect communities and critical infrastructure in the region, and presents tough decisions for vulnerable areas. For example, the New Jersey Meadowlands – home to over 30,000 at-risk residents, Teterboro Airport, the Secaucus rail station, Giants Stadium, the American Dream entertainment project, thousands of industrial jobs and critical roads and rail lines – could be largely inundated between three and six feet of sea level rise and requires careful planning today to determine where water can be kept out and how to adapt to permanent flooding where it cannot.

Sea level threats are also significant for parts of New York City’s outer boroughs, including the Rockaways, Jamaica Bay and Coney Island and many barrier beach and back bay communities of the Jersey Shore and Long Island’s east end and south shore, which are also among the most difficult to protect.

Beyond the challenges for residential and employment centers, some of our region’s most critical infrastructure, including its airports, are in areas that are the most threatened. As little as one foot of sea level rise has the capacity to permanently flood Teterboro Airport in the Meadowlands. With three feet of sea level rise, a possibility as early as 2080, half of LaGuardia airport could be permanently flooded. Other threatened infrastructure includes Hoboken Terminal, PATH lines and the region’s waterfront wastewater treatment and energy generation plants.

The report warns that with the first damaging consequences of sea level rise already affecting some of the region’s communities, action must be taken now to adapt the places most at risk by determining where engineered solutions can best keep water out, where we can try to live with higher seas and how we can begin to phase out new development and retreat from some places over the coming decades.

View the full report