When the word “infrastructure” comes up, most people think of steel and concrete, bridges and ports. But our water and coastal infrastructure is just as critical to the American economy and creates (and protects) just as many jobs, but does so with sand and sediment, roots and grass.
Infrastructure refers to the structures, systems, and facilities serving the economy of an industry, country, or area, including the services and facilities necessary for its economy to function. Water and coastal infrastructure, just like man-made infrastructure, is an asset that society depends on – and, most particularly, it is about U.S. jobs. Creating jobs and protecting jobs, blue collar jobs and white collar jobs, American jobs that cannot be outsourced.
Just as importantly, this coastal infrastructure is used by visitors from every state as well as countless foreign countries. If we don’t maintain our shorelines, many of those visitors will travel elsewhere for their coastal experience, taking with them their money and our coastal jobs. Many of those jobs are service jobs, tied to robust tourism as well as a growing residential base. The importance of the service industry as a national employer cannot and should not be ignored. Nor should the fact that service jobs such as these are local jobs; they cannot be outsourced and the money mostly stays in the local economy.
Beach project construction is a job bonanza in itself. Restoring a beach starts with engineers, geologists, and biologists working in tandem to design a project by taking into account shore geomorphology, local coastal dynamics and site-specific ecology. The project is carried out with dredges or trucks, heavy equipment, bulldozers, and, when a vegetated dune is included, planters. This means construction crews, foremen and support staff.
That is just the start. The beach is an economic engine itself– according to economist James R. Houston, Ph.D., beaches get more recreational use in the U.S. than all our national parks combined (1). Therefore beaches support tourism jobs throughout coastal communities. This adds up to a major economic impact – beaches help generate $225 billion annually to the national economy (2). Dr. Houston goes on to state that “for every $1 the federal government spent on beach nourishment in 2012 ($44 million), it collected about $570 ($25 billion) annually in tax revenues from beach tourism.”
Furthermore, beaches protect communities from coastal flooding, reducing the likelihood that hurricanes and coastal storms will significantly disrupt the local economy and result in job losses. These wide beaches and high dunes also protect upland property and infrastructure from waves and flooding, which can speed a community’s recovery and reduce insurance and repair costs. Strong coastal infrastructure means local businesses are still in business after a storm, and coastal residents will be able to get back into their homes quickly and with fewer repairs.
This protection also accrues from coastal wetlands, which can reduce storm and flood risk for property and infrastructure, and provide recreation benefit. Wetlands also support fisheries and, in many areas, a major fishing industry. A detailed study of Gulf Coast restoration, which is primarily wetland restoration with some beach and mangrove restoration, determined that 88,000 new jobs would be created in the Gulf Coast with an investment of $25 billion in coastal infrastructure over 50 years (3). Studies of estuarine restoration – from the Gulf of Maine to the Chesapeake to North Carolina – consistently show that for every $1 million invested, approximately 30 jobs are created or protected (4).
Another advantage of beaches, dunes and wetland is their environmental value. From sea turtles to shorebirds to commercial and non-commercial fisheries, wildlife of all sorts live, breed and feed on what we should consider our coastal and water infrastructure.
Barrier beach systems are shock absorbers for the high energy waves and tides generated by coastal storms. The nation’s most biologically beneficial wetlands and estuaries are often protected from open Pacific, Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Great Lakes waves by a barrier beach. Erosion over time, stabilization of inlets for ships and boats and high waves and tides during a storm can change the placid and protected waters of a back bay into a very energized water body, resulting in a greatly diminished fishery.
This directly impacts those who work our coastal fisheries as their sole profession, and who feed America and the world. Practically all of our commercial fish stock depend on these quiet coastal areas; back bays, wetlands and estuaries for their very existence. Investment in maintaining the sandy shores and wetlands is a clear and undeniable investment in the valuable fishing industry of this nation.
Of course coastal infrastructure such as beaches, dunes and wetlands, as well as inland water infrastructure like stream- and riverbank restoration, are essential to the U.S. economy for more than just their job creation potential. They are, simply put, wise fiscal investments.
Investing in coastal infrastructure will save the federal government money by reducing post-disaster recovery payments. Federal investment in shore protection was estimated to have saved $1.9 billion in damages during Hurricane Sandy(5). With a $65 billion recovery price tag, imagine how much we could have saved if we’d invested a fraction of that money to update our coastal infrastructure before the storm rather than after.
These scenarios play out time and again: Wide beaches and high dunes protect other infrastructure and jobs. With water and coastal infrastructure, we will either pay now to build and maintain it, or pay a lot more later in repair and recovery.
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ABOUT ASBPA: Founded in 1926, the American Shore & Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that advocates for healthy coastlines by promoting the integration of science, policies and actions that maintain, protect and enhance the coasts of America. For more information on ASBPA, go to www.asbpa.org, Facebook or www.twitter.com/asbpa. For information, to change your email address or to unsubscribe from this list, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. A complete collection of Beach News Service articles is available for media access online at. https://asbpa.org/publications/american-beach-news-service/
1) Houston, J. 2013. “The economic value of beaches – a 2013 update” Shore & Beach 81(1), 3-11
2) Houston, J. 2013. “The economic value of beaches – a 2013 update” Shore & Beach 81(1), 3-11