Sea level rise and more severe storms are overwhelming U.S. coastal communities, causing billions of dollars in damage and essentially bankrupting the federal flood insurance program. Yet rebuilding continues, despite warnings that far more properties will soon be underwater.

Long Beach Island is the largest and richest barrier island in New Jersey, an oasis of sprawling oceanfront retreats and second homes located midway down the state’s heavily developed coast, a two-hour drive from the metropolitan centers of New York City and Philadelphia. On a clear day, visitors in the southern end can see the shiny facades of the Atlantic City casinos rising like obelisks across Great Bay. In the north, historic Barnegat Lighthouse towers over an unruly inlet steadied by boulders stretching into the Atlantic Ocean. In many places, the long, slender island is barely a few feet above sea level. And like most of New Jersey’s coast, it has been eroding for decades, leaving it vulnerable to flooding and rising seas.

Recently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers pumped more than ten million cubic yards of sand from offshore dredges to widen Long Beach Island’s beaches and dunes – part of a Sisyphean-like effort to protect the island’s $15 billion of high-calorie real estate. But there is a problem. The sand keeps washing away. A series of storms over the last two years gouged the neatly groomed beaches, costing tens of millions in additional repairs. When all is said and done, the project will cost more than half a billion dollars, most of the money paid by U.S. taxpayers.

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