On sunny days like Wednesday, Yale students converge on Cross Campus to enjoy the weather; New Haven’s streets flood with shop-goers and dog-walkers; and along the waterfront, waves ebb and flow on the Long Wharf shore. On days like these, the potentially devastating effects of rising sea levels and superstorms seem a distant thought.

But New Haven is at greater risk than ever: Sea levels have continued to rise, and the city’s coastal location puts it in a precarious position. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, sea levels are currently rising at about an eighth of an inch per year — enough to result in an increase in the number and intensity of deadly storm surges and flooding.

New Haven officials are well aware of this trend. The city’s new Climate and Sustainability Framework notes that rising sea levels are “already being experienced in New Haven … threatening businesses and infrastructure.” In response, City Hall is working on ways to prevent such potentially catastrophic damage.

“It’s all about resiliency,” mayoral spokesperson Laurence Grotheer said. “Given New Haven’s coastal location and its proximity to the threat of rising sea levels, the city engineer has embarked on a number of strategies to guard against sea level rise and excessive storm surge.”

These mitigation strategies are numerous and include “a fortified conventional sea wall system,” the development of natural buffers, such as living reefs and expanded marshlands, and a more comprehensive and sustainable system for dealing with stormwater runoff.

Three months ago, the city used a state grant of nearly $1 million to solicit design ideas and suggestions about how to bolster shoreline defenses along Long Wharf, one of the most at-risk neighborhoods in the city because of its proximity to the water.

Such defenses can take the form of artificial structures like sea walls, or natural buffers.

In addition to the city’s efforts, the Connecticut Fund for the Environment has several habitat restoration plans around the city “designed to help reduce flooding and manage stormwater,” according to Laura McMillan, the Connecticut Fund for the Environment director of communications.

McMillan said that although the organization has worked with City Hall in the past on climate-related adaptation plans, the two are not currently coordinating their efforts to protect against rising sea levels. The Connecticut Fund for the Environment has, however, developed a conceptual plan to reconnect the New Haven Harbor with a natural shoreline, which would create a more effective barrier against storm surges.

Other coastal cities in the region are also preparing for higher sea levels and more intense flooding.

Stamford, Connecticut’s third most populated city, has conducted climate resiliency assessments as the city looks for ways to mitigate potential damage from climate-related events, said Emily Gordon, project manager of Stamford 2030, which is part of a national nonprofit network whose mission is to build sustainable high-efficiency cities.

To mitigate storm-surge damage, Stamford recently restored Mill River Park, in the center of the city, a project Gordon said had a huge positive impact, ultimately leading to significantly less flooding.

In addition, Gordon stressed that “resiliency is a regional issue,” adding that climate change is not something that should be addressed on a city-by-city basis, but rather requires a broader cooperative effort.

The Long Island Sound is composed of water from freshwater tributaries and saltwater from the Atlantic Ocean.

Max Graham |