Incorporate Flood Resiliency, Sea Level Rise, and Climate Change Adaptation into Official Local Government Plans

Revise, Update, or Adopt Amendment to Comprehensive Plan

In Delaware, local governments have the responsibility for land use planning. The comprehensive plan is the foundation for planning in Delaware. Comprehensive plans guide growth, development, and desired land use patterns and are a requirement for all local governments in Delaware. Title 22, Chapter 7, Section 702 of the Delaware Code prescribes the contents of comprehensive plans and the frequency with which they are to be reviewed or revised. The Delaware Code requires that at least every 5 years a municipality (with a population over 2,000) review its adopted comprehensive plan to determine if its provisions are still relevant. The adopted comprehensive plan must also be revised, updated, amended as necessary, and readopted at least every 10 years.

Planning for flooding is inextricably linked to future plans for land use, growth and development, and infrastructure provision—all key facets of the comprehensive plan. The Delaware Office of State Planning Coordination’s (OSPC) Municipal Comprehensive Plan Guide directs municipalities to address environmental protection within a section of the comprehensive plan. Strategies for stormwater and watershed management, wetlands protection, floodplain protection, water resource protection areas, climate change and sea level rise may be covered within the environmental protection section and other comprehensive plan elements. Strategies should also be incorporated into official maps that are prepared and adopted as part of a comprehensive plan. Provisions should be drafted and vetted in a public participation process as part of a comprehensive plan revision, update, or amendment during the required 5-year review or 10-year update. Land use regulations, such as zoning and subdivision ordinances—whether separate documents or a single land-use code—are the principal means for carrying out recommendations of a comprehensive plan.Image of Municipal Comprehensive Plan Guide

Create and Adopt a Stand-Alone Plan(s) as a Comprehensive Plan Amendment

Most incorporated jurisdictions in Delaware have adopted All Hazard Mitigation Plans. These federally mandated plans focus on how a community should prepare for and react to disasters. However, this form of planning provides a short-term response to a disaster event and focuses on recovery. Hazard mitigation plans are based on historical information and oriented toward emergency management and public safety. They do not provide measures or direct actions that reduce the negative impacts of hazards or provide new opportunities to prepare for future impacts of flooding associated with storms, seasonal high “king” tides, and sea level rise. To address the need for proactive planning, local governments may also wish to prepare and implement stand-alone plan(s) and adopt them as an amendment to a comprehensive plan. Examples of relevant stand-alone plans include a comprehensive watershed management plan, an open space protection plan, natural land management plan, stormwater drainage study, vulnerability assessment study, a flood study conducted in accordance with FEMA criteria, and/or a Natural Hazards/Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan.

As described in Delaware Sea Grant’s Natural Hazard and Climate Change Adaptation Tool Kit, the development of a long-term Natural Hazards/Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan ideally builds upon a jurisdiction’s existing hazard mitigation plan, other plans (e.g., open space protection, watershed management, comprehensive plans), policies (e.g., floodplain management ordinances, building and zoning codes), and programs (e.g., land acquisition or land management). These plans enable a community to identify planning, mitigation, and adaptation opportunities that will help reduce vulnerabilities to natural hazards and climate impacts. Preparing this type of plan is a collaborative process that engages and involves the public, identifies problems, proposes solutions, and develops an actionable implementation plan. This is an excellent example of a plan that can be created and adopted by a jurisdiction as an amendment to the jurisdiction’s comprehensive plan.

While creating a stand-alone plan may seem like a less daunting option, this may not be the case. The issues that the local government will have to address may touch upon many other elements of the comprehensive plan, such as environmental regulations, land use, density, design, transportation, energy, and mapping of areas impacted by flooding. A full update of the comprehensive plan may be needed to bring all sections into coordination with recommendations of a stand-alone plan, such as a Natural Hazards/Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan. Local officials should contact their Delaware Office of State Planning Coordination (OSPC) circuit-rider planner for guidance.

In addition, many of the activities associated with preparing a Natural Hazards/Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan may qualify a community for a higher score within the National Flood Insurance Program’s (NFIP) Community Rating System (CRS) that results in flood insurance savings for community residents and businesses. CRS credits may be possible for communities that conduct public information, mapping and regulatory, flood damage reduction, and flood preparedness activities.

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