Digital Coast Act Becomes Law This Week

The Digital Coast Act, now approved by both chambers of Congress, will become law this week, and that is a significant step toward expanding and making accessible geospatial data to support environmental and economic development activities in the coastal regions of the United States.

The bill creates a program within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to develop a portal, known as the Digital Coast, to compile and make publicly available data about American coastline. The data collected will be crucial for states and municipalities in managing the shoreline within their boundaries.

When it becomes law, NOAA will develop a coordinated and comprehensive national mapping effort for coastal, state, and territorial waters of the United States. The Digital Coast exists as a project and data has been collected for more than a decade, says Nicholas Schmidt, chief of the Science and Geospatial Division for NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management.

“We’ve been working for 13 years since we envisioned what the digital coast would be,” he says. “But there is so much more that needs to be done. We have a long list of needs and requirements.”

By integrating coastal data from a variety of sources, making it publicly accessible, and assisting with applications of the data for decision support, NOAA’s Digital Coast project is helping the coastal management community better plan for storms, natural disasters, future development and other challenges that impact coastal and Great Lakes communities. The most significant impact may be in Alaska, where poorer communities struggle to get data needed in the decision-making process.

Schmidt says one of the catalysts for the legislation was that there is so much data available that planners didn’t know where to go to access it. The Digital Coast is the enabling platform to create a continuum from data to decision maker.

Data included in the Digital Coast will include surveying, mapping, geospatial, economic, demographic and ecosystem data to satellite imagery. In addition to making this data publicly available online, the Digital Coast Act provides a wide array of visualization and prediction tools that dramatically improve the effectiveness and efficiency of coastal management projects around the country.

The Digital Coast programs helps in a wide range of coastal issues, everything from new oceanside condominium projects to bluff erosion in the Great Lakes.

The legislation creates a program to utilize the capabilities of private sector geospatial professions to implement recommendations of numerous reports that have highlighted the need for surveying, charting, remote sensing and geospatial data of America’s coasts, harbors, ports, shorelines and ocean resources for economic growth, recreational activities, and conservation of fragile coastal environments. 

“The strong bipartisan support for this measure is a demonstration of its broad appeal and value to the nation’s communities,” said John Byrd, vice president at JMP&A and organizer of the Digital Coast Partnership Advocacy Coalition.

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