Cover of the Rolling Easements Primer

Rolling Easements Primer

Residents and planners in coastal areas can refer to this primer in considering options for adapting to sea level rise.

This document provides a primer on more than a dozen land use and legal tools for ensuring that intertidal habitats (wetlands, mudflats, and beaches) can persist even as sea level rises. Rising sea level is inundating low-lying lands, eroding beaches, and exacerbating coastal flooding. In undeveloped areas, landowners have generally allowed wetlands, beaches, and barrier islands to adjust naturally to rising water levels by migrating inland. In contrast, governments and landowners in developed areas have usually attempted to hold back the sea by adding sand to eroding beaches or erecting dikes, seawalls, revetments, and other shore protection structures. Very little developed land has been given up to the rising sea—especially along estuaries where individual landowners can usually protect their own property without government assistance.

This document presents a vision in which future development of some low-lying coastal lands is based on the premise that eventually the land must give way to the rising sea. This is a primer on more than a dozen approaches for ensuring that wetlands and beaches can migrate inland, as people remove buildings, roads, and other structures from land as it becomes submerged. Collectively, these approaches are known as rolling easements.

The question about which—if any—of these approaches should be adopted is beyond the scope of the primer. It does not evaluate how much of the coast should be protected or how much of it should give way to the rising sea. The objective is merely to provide a summary of the tools that could be adopted, and their possible rationales, to help encourage a thorough consideration of the many available options for responding to rising sea level. It does not exclude possible approaches merely because they have not been tested or would require existing policies to change. The aim is for this primer to help communities consider the full range of options for anticipating the consequences of a rising sea.

Last modified
6 February 2018 - 2:38pm