Resilience to a Changing Climate in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Progress, Challenges, Information Gaps, and Opportunities

by Neil Berg, Debra Knopman, Benjamin F. Hobbs, Klaus Keller, Robert E. Nicholas

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Research Questions

  1. What decisions and investments under consideration today would most benefit from the inclusion of climate information?
  2. What adaptation initiatives have been accomplished, and what are proposed future adaptation options?
  3. Where are the key knowledge and data gaps in climate resilience and adaptation initiatives?
  4. What opportunities exist to advance climate resilience efforts?
  5. What are the challenges to and constraints on advancing those efforts?

To help launch the Mid-Atlantic Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (MARISA) program, researchers at the RAND Corporation, Pennsylvania State University, and Johns Hopkins University gathered stakeholder views on activities related to resilience and adaptation to climate variability and change in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Between January and June 2017, they conducted 29 discussions with federal, state, and local government officials; coastal and environmental managers; transportation planners; water and electric utility officials; land conservationists; hydrologists; atmospheric scientists; military officials; and other local stakeholders. Presented here is a synthesis of these discussions, supplemented, where appropriate, with references to published information gathered by the MARISA team. These conversations focused on decisions and investments under consideration today that would most benefit from the inclusion of climate information, adaptation initiatives that have been accomplished and proposed future adaptation options, key knowledge and data gaps in climate resilience and adaptation initiatives, opportunities to advance climate resilience efforts, and challenges or threats to advancing those efforts. This report is intended for a general audience of stakeholders, practitioners, and policymakers interested in climate resiliency. The goals are to (1) provide a concise account of the initial stakeholder feedback that is helping to shape MARISA's analytical priorities and efforts to assist the region on these issues and (2) increase awareness of stakeholder perceptions about how a changing climate is currently affecting or will soon affect a variety of services, investments, and decisions in the region.

Key Findings

Sea Level Rise, Extreme Temperatures, and Extreme Precipitation Most Affect Transportation, Land, and Water Management Decisions

  • The mid-Atlantic region will experience increased coastal flooding. Parts of Maryland's coastline already experience frequent roadway flooding due to high tides.
  • Rising temperatures could also affect the performance of transportation networks. Increased extreme heat could exacerbate the occurrence of kinked rail. It also places additional strain on the heating and cooling demands within the railcars and the stations and the timing and scheduling of maintenance repairs so crews do not work in dangerous heat conditions.
  • The possibility of increased extreme rainfall events (and changes in temperature) poses a major threat to efforts to manage stormwater in urban centers and pollutant deposition into Chesapeake Bay tributaries.
  • Future precipitation changes could significantly alter streamflow patterns, operations, and environmental impacts related to relicensing the Conowingo Dam.
  • Despite numerous existing climate data-set products, gaps remain in translating them to be more accessible and useful to meet stakeholder-driven needs.

The research reported here was conducted in the RAND Infrastructure Resilience and Environmental Policy program of RAND Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation perspective series. RAND perspectives present informed perspective on a timely topic that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND perspectives undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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