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Report details Coast ‘sunny day’ flood threats through 2100

Wastewater treatment plants and affordable housing units may be some of the first places to see frequent “sunny day” flooding in Mississippi, according to a report released Tuesday from the Union of Concerned Scientists that spanned every coastal state from Maine to Washington.

The report identified over 6,000 “critical infrastructure assets” — which includes buildings used for government, education, housing, energy, and other public needs — around the country that are at risk of flooding multiple times a year by 2100 based on medium-level sea level rise projections. Public and affordable housing made up the largest category of assets at risk, the report found.

Mississippi has comparatively fewer buildings that are under threat of frequent “sunny day” flooding — which happens because of rising tides rather than from storms — than most other coastal states, with 37 assets that could flood twice a year by 2100 under the mid-level scenario.

By 2050, under that same scenario, some buildings along the state’s coast could experience tidal flooding once every two weeks, the report projects. Those include two housing facilities in Biloxi (the Cadet Point Senior Village, an affordable housing space with 76 units for elderly and near elderly residents, and the Seashore Oaks Assisted Living Facility) and two wastewater treatment plants in Hancock County (one owned by the Hancock County Regional Utility Authority in Kiln, and another at Port Bienville).

They also include two properties listed as Brownfield sites (376 Bayview Avenue in Biloxi and 201-299 Dupont Avenue in Pascagoula). Brownfields are properties with contaminants or pollutants — and are generally less severe than Superfund sites — that the federal government funds for revitalization projects. The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality told Mississippi Today it didn’t have information on those sites.

David Pitalo, Excutive Director of the Hancock County Regional Utility Authority, said he was skeptical of there being a flood threat to the Kiln sewage plant because of how far back from the shore it is. He added that “anything is possible,” calling projections like the ones in Tuesday’s report a “guessing game.”

“Do I feel we are in a situation where we can be flooded? There’s always that possibility, I think it’s very, very slim,” Pitalo told Mississippi Today over the phone. “We went through Katrina and there was no water on the site, and that was a 27-foot tidal surge.”

The projections are based on elevation and sea level rise data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The report breaks down its projections into three scenarios for global sea level rise — high (6.5 feet), medium (3.2 feet) and low (1.6 feet) — across several time periods. The chart below shows how many “critical infrastructure” buildings in Mississippi are at risk of flooding multiple times a year for each scenario:

Other public infrastructure, like drinking water treatment plants, were left out of the report due to limited data, and other community assets, such as churches, were left out because they weren’t considered critical to all communities.

By 2100 under the medium-level scenario, the report says, repeated tidal flooding could affect 14 public and affordable housing facilities on the Coast; five wastewater treatment plants; seven Brownfields; five electrical substations; and three facilities listed under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxic Release Inventory, including the Chevron plant in Pascagoula.

UCS is a national nonprofit founded in 1969 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Zooming out, we need more comprehensive solutions,” UCS wrote about its report. “Phasing out fossil fuels, ramping up clean energy, and holding fossil fuel companies accountable must be cornerstones of climate resilience work. In truth, our collective willingness to stop polluting now will determine the scale of the problem late this century.”

UCS also included several recommendations for mitigating “sunny day” flooding impacts: developing local climate resilience plans; increase public and private sector funding for infrastructure; reduce historical inequalities around racism and poverty; protect affordable housing; and limit heat-trapping emissions.

“While near-term sea level rise is largely locked in, the choices nations make about the global emissions pathway, starting right now, could lead to profoundly different levels of risk on our coastlines over the course of the century,” the report says.

The report also includes an interactive map of buildings at risk here.

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