Sea level rise is expected to become an increasingly prominent challenge for all levels of government as the climate changes. Complicating matters is the multi-jurisdictional nature of coastal zone management in the United States. Many of the potential measures to reduce the impacts of sea level rise are in the hands of municipalities, including changing building codes and landuse regulations; maintaining critical infrastructure; and protecting communities from flooding and other risks. Despite their autonomy and responsibility, municipalities will typically rely on resources and guidance from higher levels of government, and will also be subject to the restrictions these higher levels impose. Given the increasing importance of addressing sea level rise across the US, this relationship between states and municipalities is worthy of consideration.

This paper explores how states and municipalities interact to address sea level rise, providing an overview of the state of practice, some reasons for different levels of action, and some of the needs of municipalities. We onclude with a set of recommendations for states as they attempt to support municipalities:

  • Provide funding and material resources;
  • Provide downscaled climate data and easy-to-use information;
  • Provide process support;
  • Coordinate and provide consistency at the state level;
  • Raise the profile of sea level rise adaptation;
  • Instigate and support coordination at the most appropriate level; and
  • Tailor responses to the context.