Coastal Defense Megaprojects in an Era of Sea-Level Rise: Politically Feasible Strategies or Army Corps Fantasies?

D. J. Rasmussen, Robert E. Kopp, Michael Oppenheimer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Storm surge barriers, levees, and other coastal flood defense megaprojects are currently being proposed as strategies to protect several US cities against coastal storms and rising sea levels. However, social conflict and other political factors add a layer of complexity that casts doubt on their status as practical climate adaptation options. The specific mechanisms responsible for some projects not progressing beyond initial planning stages remains unclear. In this study, we examined the outcome of two USACE storm surge barrier proposals to explore the political reasons why some coastal flood protection megaprojects break ground in the US, while others do not. Using original archive research, we concluded that storm surge barriers are politically challenging climate adaptation options because of modern environmental laws that provide avenues for expression of oppositional views within the decision process and the allure of alternative options that are more aesthetically pleasing and cheaper and faster to implement. To better allocate public resources and utilize the expertise of USACE, future flood protection megaprojects should first achieve broad support from the public, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and elected officials before beginning serious planning. This support could be achieved through new innovative designs that simultaneously address adverse environmental impacts and provide cobenefits (e.g., recreation). New designs should be studied to better understand the level of protection offered and their associated reliability so that USACE has confidence in their use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number04022077
JournalJournal of Water Resources Planning and Management
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Civil and Structural Engineering


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