Graham Sustainability Institute

Assessing the Effects of Storm Surge Barriers on the Hudson River Estuary

November 2018

Coastal cities around the country are exploring structural engineering options for defending against extreme storms and the resulting surges of ocean water that cause massive flooding. Storm surge barriers or tide gates can effectively protect harbors and minimize flooding, property damage, and loss of life during large storms. These barriers typically span the opening to a harbor or river mouth and include gates that are only closed when storm surges are expected. However, even when gates are open, the barriers reduce water flow and tidal exchange, which in turn affects water quality and ecological processes. Scientists and engineers are increasingly recognizing the need for broad research initiatives to more fully explore the advantages and disadvantages of large surge barriers.

One such initiative is currently underway in the New York metropolitan area, an area with highly valuable and vulnerable coastal infrastructure. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, states of New York and New Jersey, and New York City have partnered to conduct the Harbor and Tributaries Focus Area Feasibility Study to evaluate barriers and other options to manage coastal storm risks. Since a surge barrier could have significant impacts on the Hudson River and surrounding estuary ecosystem, the Hudson River Research Reserve and partners formed a Barrier Benefits and Impacts Workgroup in December 2017, with the goal of helping to review and supplement the Army Corps’ feasibility study and Environmental Impact Assessment. This project extends the existing workgroup’s effort and facilitates the development of a collaborative research agenda to address current information needs. The project approach is designed to foster close collaboration and information-sharing among scientists and key end users. The project team will conduct modeling and analyses of the physical influences of surge barriers and host a series of workshops to synthesize and share information.