San Juan Bay Estuary Program Assesses Vulnerability and Targets Low Risk Adaptation Measures

San Juan Bay Estuary Program Assesses Vulnerability and Targets Adaptation Measures

 

Project Summary

The Puerto Rico Climate Change Council brought together numerous experts in 2010 to assess potential climate impacts and vulnerability in Puerto Rico’s State of the Climate Report (PDF) (328 pp, 14 MB, About PDF). Among numerous climate risks, the report details several climate threats to the San Juan Bay Estuary Program, one of 28 National Estuary Programs from around the country. As active members of the Puerto Rico Climate Changes Council, the San Juan Bay Estuary Program decided to follow up on the report with a risk determination and vulnerability assessment for the San Juan Bay estuary. The Estuary Program worked with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Climate Ready Estuary Program to undertake a comprehensive vulnerability assessment and identify adaptation strategies. The Estuary Program used the USEPA's Being Prepared for Climate Change Workbook process to catalog climate related vulnerabilities through community workshops, stakeholder meetings and exercises.

In order to better understand climate concerns and experiences, the Estuary Program engaged the environmental justice communities that live and work around the bay through workshops and on-site discussions. The completed vulnerability assessment better prepares the San Juan Bay Estuary Program to undertake action to adapt to a changing climate. The report represents a first step for the the Estuary Program. The vulnerability assessment will help inform the development of a future adaptation plan that identifies appropriate adaptation strategies. Meanwhile, the vulnerability assessment has encouraged the estuary program to pursue measures to improve the resilience of coastal wetlands and coral reefs.

Implementation

First, the Puerto Rico Climate Change Council conducted a vulnerability assessment with an extensive stakeholder engagement process. They developed a climate projection scenario using the Climate Ready Estuaries Workbook, identified and engaged vulnerable communities through community workshops and in-person discussions and analyzed the likelihood and magnitude of climate threats including extreme weather, sea level rise, erosion and loss of coastal barriers such as mangroves and coral reefs.

Next, the San Juan Bay Estuary Program identified the highest likelihood and highest consequence risks for non-point and point source pollution. They documented top climate risks of concern and identified the timeframe for impact. Some climate risks were identified as already occurring. Examples include point source sewage overflows and non-point source issues such as increased runoff, septic system failures and greater erosion and sedimentation from sea level rise. The Estuary Program also recognized that other climate affects posed longer-term risk including an increase in harmful algal bloom outbreaks and greater infiltration into sewers due to a higher water table.

The Estuary Program used this information to inform management plans and implement resiliency measures. They incorporated climate risks within the 2013 draft update to the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan. (Spanish only). The program continues to promote actions such as using artificial reefs and mangrove plantings to help restore the estuary and increase resilience to future conditions.

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