The Lake Macquarie Council Adaptation Action

Adaptation in Action: Sea Level Rise at Lake Macquarie City Council

Growing awareness of climate change has brought climate impacts into consideration across a broad range of scales. From state level planning frameworks through to individual actions, the aim of this series is to provide examples of climate change adaptation in action. It will explore positive responses to all types of climate change challenges from around Australia. If you are aware of good adaptation actions please let us know.

Triggers for Action
The Lake Macquarie Council Adaptation Action
Research Process
Knowledge Creation
Information Dissemination


Many of Australia’s human settlements are located close to the coast where homes, businesses and infrastructure are exposed to the risks of future sea-level rise. Anecdotal evidence suggests that uncertainty surrounding the extent of projected sea-level rise, together with the lack of a clear policy framework, has made it difficult for many Australian local governments to incorporate seal- level rise considerations into planning decisions. This case study explores the actions undertaken by Lake Macquarie City Council, on the coast of NSW. This Council has recently been identified by the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF) as an adaptation champion.

Triggers for Action

Lake Macquarie City Council manages a city of almost 200,000 people living on a large coastal estuary which has seen over 75% of the lake foreshore modified or developed. With 28km of coastline and population growth projected to cause demand for almost 36,500 new homes within the next 25 years, the issue of managing the impacts of sea-level rise is a pressing one. Sea-level rise along the south eastern coast of Australia is projected to be higher than the mean global average, with a recent Australian Government report stating that “sea-level rise at the upper end of the IPCC estimates is plausible by the end of this century, and that a rise of more than 1.0 metre and as high as 1.5 metres cannot be ruled out” (DCCEE 2009, p.26)

Table 1

Table 1. Three sea-level rise scenarios developed by CSIRO for the Australian Government report “Climate Change Risks to Australia's Coasts” (DCCEE 2009, p.27). The B1 and A1FI scenarios were developed by the IPCC and assume low growth and high carbon-intensive growth respectively. The high end scenario, developed by the Netherlands Delta Committee, takes into account scientific findings since the last IPCC report (published in 2007).

The Lake Macquarie Council Adaptation Action

In the past Lake Macquarie Council has been an early mover in sea-level rise adaptation, having undertaken research to address the challenges since 2007 and adopting one of Australia’s a first sea-level rise policiesy in 2008 (establishing 0.91cm above 1990 levels by 2100 as the planning threshold). Actions undertaken by Council to consider the impacts of sea-level rise include:

Community Awareness:

  • Engaging communities vulnerable to sea-level rise (Dora Creek, Swansea, Belmont) in a community empowerment process to discuss and develop local climate change adaptation plans;
  • Working across the City, and with local communities through the Sustainable Neighbourhoods program, to identify and plan for climate changes and their effects including increased bushfire risk, increased storm risk, increased flood risk, and increased number of hot days (e.g. Climate Ready Dora Creek).

Policy and Planning

  • Created the Lake Macquarie Sea-level Rise Preparedness and Adaptation Policy;
  • Developed planning guidelines for foreshore areas affected by projected sea-level rises, placing restrictions on new development areas, and increasing requirements for floor levels and other structural adaptations in existing development areas;
  • Undertook a review of provisions in the Local Environmental Plan and Development Control Plan;
  • Placed a sea-level rise notification on land certificates (Section 149 Certificates) for all coastal and foreshore properties below 3 metres Australian Height Datum (AHD) (July 2009). This means that future owners of a property are notified that the land is exposed to sea-level rise related risks.

Research Process

Lake Macquarie Council:

  • Undertook a range of research based activities to ensure that their policies were based on sound and up-to-date science and undertook a risk assessment to identify the potential risks from sea-level rise (and other climate change risks);
  • Partnered with University of Sydney, Faculty of Architecture to develop a 2100 vision for adaptable urban design and building designs in communities vulnerable to sea-level rise;
  • Undertook research to identify the effects of sea-level rise on coastal and estuarine wetlands;
  • Participated with Hunter Councils (HCCREMS) in developing regional risk assessments and adaption action plans.

Knowledge Creation

The process has allowed the Council to increase its internal climate change adaptive capacity. It has also established a clear methodical pathway towards sea-level rise resilience. This includes 40 planned actions for managing the projected rise in sea-levels. Future actions include:.

  • Increasing internal capacity;
  • Reviewing floodplain management plans;
  • Undertaking a cost/ benefit study of proposed adaptation actions;
  • Reviewing long-term planning strategies;
  • Liaising with infrastructure providers;
  • Exploring options for managing, protecting, and/or relocating facilities likely to be disproportionately affected by sea-level rise;
  • Revising Emergency Management Planning and Response Plans.

Information Dissemination

The Council is committed to sharing its knowledge with others who face similar risks. The best example of this is the Council’s creation of eShorance, which is a freely available web-based tool “for anyone who manages an estuarine shore, to help understand how their shoreline may respond to rising sea-levels.” The tool provides step-by-step instructions whereby users create their shoreline profile then calculate scenarios of shoreline inundation, erodibility and recession. More information about the tool can be found at