Coastal floodplains and connected ecosystems are among the most ecologically productive regions in the United States, with ecosystem services estimated at over $20 billion (Martinez et al. 2007). Coastal regions also rank among the most densely populated areas both globally and in the United States (Duxbury & Dickinson 2007). Over a quarter of U.S. residents live in coastal counties, a number that is likely to continue to increase in coming decades (Gaddis et al. 2007). This continued development in sensitive coastal regions has resulted in a need for sound coastal management practices in order to balance the effective use of coastal resources, health of coastal ecosystems, and risk posed by factors such as coastal flooding and erosion (Bagstad et al. 2007; Temmerman et al. 2013; White et al. 2001).

These coastal management challenges will likely become more complex in the future due to changing climatic conditions, specifically rising sea levels, increased coastline erosion, and coastal storm intensification (FitzGerald et al. 2008; Hallegatte et al. 2013; IPCC 2013; Mousavi et al. 2011; Nicholls & Cazenave 2010). Coastal flood risk management policies and practices must effectively account for these changing hazards if the health of coastal communities and ecosystems is to be preserved. This need to update coastal management policies and practices in light of changing coastal hazards has been recognized by the Association of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM) and the Coastal States Organization (CSO), which have produced number of policy guidance documents. Up to this point, however, no framework exists for implementing the progressive policies put forth. This project aims to fill this gap in knowledge through a review and synthesis of federal and state coastal management policies, identifying model policies at the federal and state level and providing guidelines for the development of a holistic approach to coastal flood risk management.

The report is organized into three main sections. The first section provides an overview of federal programs with either a direct or indirect nexus to coastal flood risk management as well as the federal policy framework under which these programs operate. Each program within the scope of the report is summarized, and individual program’s responsibilities, roles, and connections to other federal agencies are identified. Federal programs are also evaluated in terms of their compatibility with the coastal flood risk management objectives of ASFPM and CSO. The second section consists of case studies of coastal flood risk management practices in Wisconsin, Florida, New York, and Washington, analyzing policies and programs across the following nine dimensions:

  1. State Coastal Management Programs
  2. Shoreline regulations
  3. Floodplain management
  4. Wetland management
  5. Building codes
  6. Community planning
  7. Stormwater and runoff management
  8. Erosion management
  9. Climate adaptation initiatives

The report concludes with a set of objectives, strategies, and actions in support of a holistic, adaptive approach to floodplain management, meant to provide a framework for future coastal flood risk policy and management program development.


For the purpose of this report, key terms are defined below.

  • Resilience: the capacity of social, economic, and environmental systems to cope with a hazardous event or trend or disturbance, responding or reorganizing in ways that maintain their essential function, identity, and structure, while also maintaining the capacity for adaptation, learning, and transformation (IPCC 2014)
  • Sustainability: the capacity of a community to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (World Commission on Environment and Development 1987)
  • Adaptability: the capacity of actors in a management system to influence the strength of resilience in that system (Walker et al. 2004)
  • Hazard: the potential occurrence of a natural or human-induced physical event or trend or physical impact that may cause loss of life, injury, or other health impacts, as well as damage and loss to property, infrastructure, livelihoods, service provision, ecosystems, and environmental resources (IPCC 2014)
  • Exposure: the presence of people, livelihoods, species or ecosystems, environmental functions, services, and resources, infrastructure, or economic, social, or cultural assets in places and settings that could be adversely affected (IPCC 2014)
  • Vulnerability: the propensity or predisposition to be adversely affected. Vulnerability encompasses a variety of concepts and elements including sensitivity or susceptibility to harm and lack of capacity to cope and adapt (IPCC 2014)
  • Risk: the potential for consequences where something of value is at stake and where the outcome is uncertain, recognizing the diversity of values. Risk is often represented as probability of occurrence of hazardous events or trends multiplied by the impacts if these events or trends occur (IPCC 2014)

Next section: Coastal Management Principles