As erosion slowly changes the Alabama shoreline and inland waterways, the state could face new water threats. Stormwater runoff could start running into homes. Widening rivers could overtake roadways, and the advancing Gulf Coast could decimate shores.
For example, erosion on Dauphin Island has been an ongoing problem since the 1950s. In some areas, the advancing shore has already claimed one to two rows of homes. As addresses disappear, erosion control has been a top concern for protecting homes and preserving investments.
“Erosion is one of those problems that nickel-and-dimes you to death,” says Cornell ecology professor David Pimentel. The slow-moving phenomena of soil loss may not seem concerning at first. However, over the years, erosion can radically transform a landscape. After all, water erosion is powerful enough to create the Grand Canyon.
Let’s look closely at how erosion is affecting Alabama and what cities have the worst erosion problem.
How Does Coastal Erosion Impact Alabama?
Alabama doesn’t have a large shoreline along the Gulf of Mexico. However, the coastal areas and Mobile Bay are an important part of the state’s geography and economy.
A recent study of coastal erosion found that the three most impacted shores in the country are on the Gulf coast. The data was reported in a peer-reviewed study by the Joint Research Center of the European Commission. Researchers simulated what the coast would look like 80 years in the future by analyzing 35 years of satellite imagery, 82 years of climate data, and more than 100 million storm event simulations.
The Mobile area will see the biggest impact from coastal erosion, losing about 230 yards by the end of the century. That averages out to losing nine feet of shore each year.
Coastal Erosion Rates in Alabama
|Average Shoreline Erosion in 80 Years||Projected Annual Erosion Rate|
|Mobile County, AL||-230 yards||-9 feet|
|Baldwin County, AL||-118 yards||-5 feet|
While all of Mobile County is vulnerable to coastal erosion, Dauphin Island is especially vulnerable. The barrier island located on the west side of the bay has been hammered by waves and storms.
Environmental researchers at Yale call it one of the “unluckiest islands in America” because it’s frequently in the path of major storms, which increases shore loss. The island has lost more than 100 feet of shoreline in the past few decades because of erosion.
The USGS is collaborating with the State of Alabama and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to support the formulation of a plan to preserve and protect the natural resources of Dauphin Island, Alabama. https://t.co/XkYMKmbc48 #science #waterwednesday pic.twitter.com/GgSxi0jq2S
— USGS (@USGS) February 7, 2018
The flat dunes mean that property owners have no protection from approaching waters. The force of erosion is so strong that FEMA created a five-foot-tall wall of sand to the coast that was designed to last five years, but it washed away in less than two.
Which Alabama City Has the Worst Inland Water Erosion?
Cities on the coast of Alabama aren’t the only ones dealing with erosion. Runoff, storm water, and overflowing rivers are changing the landscape of other parts of the state as the soil gets carried away.
To learn what Alabama city is most impacted by water erosion, we used county-level data from the USDA’s National Cooperative Soil Survey. Our comparison looked at Kw factor erosion, which is the susceptibility of whole soil to sheet and rill erosion by water.
The Huntsville area has the highest rate of erosion, more than Tuscaloosa, Montgomery, or Birmingham. Areas of Madison County that flood more often are likely to see the biggest erosion problem. When floodwaters finally drain, it carries away parts of the landscape, leaving behind cracked concrete, exposed utilities, and damaged home foundations. This year alone, Flood Factor estimates that the city of Huntsville will have nearly $4 million in flood damages.
In Mobile County, the region faces a double water threat. Not only does tidal surge and waves carve away at the coastline, but at the head of the Mobile Bay is the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, the third-largest river delta in the nation. It drains about three-quarters of Alabama’s landmass as well as parts of Mississippi, Tennessee, and Georgia. When the delta flooded in 2019, it became a 13-mile wide river, causing untold amounts of erosion.
What Can You Do to Protect your Home from Erosion and Flooding?
Flood damage can be expensive. FEMA estimates that it costs about $25,000 to repair damages after a home is flooded with one inch of water. And as erosion changes the landscape, flooding can become more common or affect areas that are usually safe from floodwaters.
Protecting your home from flood damage is a smart investment that can help keep your property safe during unexpected weather events.
AFS works with homeowners throughout Alabama to install flood mitigation systems that are designed to address the challenges of your home and location.
- Foundation piers can secure your home if weak soils are causing foundation failure.
- Sump Pumps can pump water out of your home during a flood, and systems with backup batteries will keep running even when the power goes out.
- Waterproofing can help you avoid water seepage or moisture problems that can lead to mildew or mold.
- Drainage can help water flow away from your home, protecting your foundation and basement.
- Retaining walls can help direct water around your home so it’s protected from runoff.
What’s the best way to protect your home? Find out with a free inspection from AFS.
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