Investing in Wetlands is an Investment Against Climate Change

Impacts of Rising Seas on San Francisco BayLiving on the shore of the Bay costs more than the purchase price of a home. A recent article in the San Mateo Daily Journal illustrated these costs for residents of one city. Due to living near the Bay and the risk of being inundated by a major flood, approximately 10,000 residents of San Mateo live within a federal flood zone, as defined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Residents are struggling to pay thousands of dollars per year toward federally required flood insurance, and the City, in an attempt to minimize risk to these residents, has spent $22.5 million in pumping stations and other flood control infrastructure.

Unfortunately, the risks of living near the shore and the costs of public infrastructure will only rise around the Bay Area. Climate change will both raise sea levels and bring more violent storms. Many communities are already flooded yearly; rising seas threaten much of the shoreline with inundation. All told, $60 billion in businesses, homes, and public infrastructure are at risk of flooding and erosion.  As a result, local governments are considering massive expenditures for public infrastructure (for example, the South Bay Shoreline Levee is expected to cost well over $100 million), especially since many levees in the Bay were built over 100 years ago and do not meet federal flood standards.

Compared to other metropolitan regions around the country, however, many Bay Area cities have the potential to save significantly by investing in their natural infrastructure — wetlands. Wetlands that ebb and flow with the tide, known as tidal marshes, act as sponges, soaking up huge quantities of water and releasing the runoff back into the Bay slowly over several weeks, providing natural flood control. By holding sediment in place, tidal marshes also reduce erosion.  Although the San Francisco Bay has lost 90% of its wetlands from diking, development and other activity, tens of thousands of acres of diked wetlands can be restored, minimizing costs for future flood protection. Wetland restoration would not do away with the need for manmade levees, but would allow for smaller and cheaper levees.

To date, the work of visionary residents and public officials has preserved and restored 45,000 acres of tidal marsh in the Bay. 30,000 acres of former wetlands have been acquired by the public and only await the funds for restoration.  The Bay Restoration Authority is a regional body created to address this challenge and raise these critically needed funds for wetland restoration. Aware of the economic, ecological, and social benefits of restoration, Save the Bay is supporting the work of the Authority as it considers a regional ballot measure to fund wetland restoration.

To stay up to date on Save the Bay’s work to fund wetland restoration, make sure you’ve signed up for action alerts and updates at www.savesfbay.org.