Those of you involved with GIS or coastal mapping may be familiar with NOAA’s Digital Coast Project, which consists of a free, online database of the most up-to-date coastal data throughout the U.S. Established in 2007, this project not only provides essential data, but also the tools and training coastal communities need to respond to emergencies and make sound planning decisions. Due, in part, to its collaborative nature and broad datasets ranging from land use to aquatic habitat to socioeconomics, the Digital Coast has quickly become one of the most widely used management resources in the coastal management community.
Accurate and up-to-date coastal information is becoming increasingly important in the U.S. Coastal watershed counties were home to nearly 164 million Americans in 2010, approximately 52% of the U.S. population. This number is expected to increase by more than 15 million by 2020. These counties also contribute over 58% ($8.3 trillion) of our gross domestic product. As vital as our nation’s coasts are to the local and national economy, they are equally as vulnerable. In the Pacific Northwest, growing demand for coastal development, combined with an increase in natural hazards such as sea-level rise, extreme weather, and flooding events, will continue to exert significant pressures on coastal communities. Storm damage from coastal flooding and erosion result in response costs, lost productivity, and lowered economic productivity that we all pay for one way or another. The Digital Coast Program provides accurate data and integrated information that enables coastal communities to adapt to changing environmental conditions and protect their local economies.
In September 2014, U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin, with support from Senator Maria Cantwell (WA) and others, introduced the Digital Coast Act of 2014. This legislation authorizes further development of the Digital Coast Project by increasing access to uniform, up-to-date data, identifying data gaps, and ensuring that coastal communities get the data they need to respond to emergencies, plan for economic development, and protect shoreline resources. The bill would provide funding for a national mapping effort of coastal waters that includes improved data on coastal elevations, land use/land cover, structures, habitat data, and aerial imagery, all of which could be of great benefit to Puget Sound and the Pacific Northwest. This legislation has been assigned to a congressional committee but it is unclear if and when it will be enacted. However, many coastal planners and scientists view the Digital Coast Act as critical legislation that is needed to help ensure the protection of coastal resources and communities in the Pacific Northwest and throughout the nation.
More information on NOAA’s Digital Coast Project or pending legislation to enact the Digital Coast Act