Kaua’i County Uses Long-Range Models to Mandate Resiliency Standards

The county requires builders to assess potential flood risks using models that account for sea level rise projected as far out as 2100.

2 minute read

September 28, 2023, 12:00 PM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Aerial view of coastal development and bright blue ocean in Kaua'i, Hawai'i.

Coastal development in Kaua'i, Hawai'i. | Reagan / Adobe Stock

In a piece for Smart Cities Dive, Ysabelle Kempe describes one Hawai’i county’s efforts to build resilience in the face of climate impacts.

Last year, Kaua’i County “made a paradigm shift in how it protects private property from rising seas driven by climate change” by requiring new and ‘substantially renovated’ buildings to withstand levels of flooding predicted for the year 2100. “The rules made the county one of the first in the nation to ‘commit to using scientific model projections as the basis for construction and planning regulations,’ according to the [University of Hawai’i].”

Based on the new rules, “Residential buildings are required to be elevated 2 feet above the highest sea-level rise flood elevation, while nonresidential structures are required to be elevated 1 foot above that level.” According to Kempe, “the rules also aim to save taxpayer dollars on costly flood-control projects and ensure that those who live in risky areas take responsibility for their actions.”

The county created a “Sea Level Rise Constraint District Viewer” tool that maps predicted sea level rise. “The county also developed an app that allows people to generate a PDF report showing whether a proposed structure is subject to the rules and the maximum flood depth it is exposed to.”

Alan Clinton, administrative planning officer at Kaua’i County, says the ordinance is a “workable” middle-ground solution, but doesn’t address other concerns from local residents.

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