Stemming the tide

Zoe Johnson

Coastal planner


Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Annapolis

Salary --$48,700 a year


Age --36

Years on the job --Seven

How she got started --A Washington state native, Johnson received a bachelor's degree from Western Washington University in urban and regional planning. She worked on regulating shoreline development for a local government for five years, then returned to school to obtain a master's degree from the University of Washington in coastal zone management. Johnson moved to Maryland to complete a two-year fellowship with the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration in Silver Spring. As part of her fellowship, she worked with the Maryland Coastal Program to develop a strategy to address rising sea levels. After a leave, she went back to work with the Maryland Coastal Program, this time as a planner in the Department of Natural Resources.

Typical day --Johnson said her job focuses on ways to limit the impact of rising sea levels and climate change. Most of her time is spent in the office working on projects, reports and grants. She is working on about three or four long-range projects at any given time. She recently completed a report on how rising sea levels affect Worcester County and a five-year assessment and strategy for the Maryland Coastal Program.

She contributed to the text for the state's new online Web site, Maryland Shorelines Online ( Her job also focuses on public education and outreach. "People want to learn more about sea-level rise and the hazards that go along with it."

Maryland's status --Thirteen Chesapeake Bay islands have disappeared over the years. The water level in the bay is rising at a rate of about a foot per century, twice the national average. "The same time water levels are rising globally, the land is sinking in the Chesapeake Bay. That's making our problem worse than in other places around the world."

Understanding the impact --It's not hard convincing people, she said. "We have some very compelling facts and models to demonstrate the rise in sea level. It's definitely an issue on everybody's mind."

Planning for the future --Johnson calls her job the "ultimate planning challenge" because rising water levels have complex effects. "Everybody needs to come to the table. There's a number of impacts. It's all interlinked."


The good --Working on a broad range of projects and with a variety of people. Johnson said the work also fulfilled her professional goal of developing the means to address sea-level rise.

The bad --Working in a cubicle.

Philosophy on the job --"Take each day at a time, but keep your eye on the ultimate goal [of addressing sea-level rise]. It's a long term problem, but we have to keep working on a solution."

Results --Johnson said coastal experts have made headway in terms of planning for sea-level rise. Results will come if in the event of the next major storm, there is a reduction in damage to people and property.

Nancy Jones-Bonbrest Special to The Sun