Four years into a record-breaking drought, few of us in the Bay Area are worrying about the harm that might happen if we get too much rain all at once, but a newly published report says that we should be.
Last Monday, the business-backed Bay Area Council released “Surviving the Storm,” a study of the economic damage that would occur in the event of the kind of powerful superstorm the Bay Area is expected to suffer once every 150 years, and perhaps more frequently as our region’s climate grows more volatile and we experience increasingly extreme weather due to the effects of climate change.
The study estimates that such a storm, dropping 12 inches of rain in a week, would cause $10.4 billion of damage region-wide, almost as much as the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Santa Clara County would suffer the greatest losses – more than $6 billion – while San Mateo and Marin counties would each lose more than $1 billion, and Alameda and Contra Costa counties would each lose about $750 million.
Strikingly, these enormous figures actually understate the potential damage such a storm would cause, as the study’s estimates do not include the costs of repairing the region’s airports and highways, do not account for the significant possibility of levee failure in Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, and do not factor in the additional impacts attributable to anticipated sea-level rise of as much as two feet by 2050.
The good news is that this huge risk to our region’s economy is largely preventable, and that accelerating the large scale restoration of San Francisco Bay’s wetlands is a big part of the solution.
One of the report’s key recommendations is to, “Support funding for the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority to restore wetlands and provide associated flood protection,” and the report further features the use of “wetlands and other natural systems to provide reliable and cost-effective flood protection while providing wildlife habitat and other ecosystem benefits.” Such flood protection mechanisms include the use of “horizontal levees” that integrate traditional grey infrastructure with green transition zones so as to enhance flood resiliency, increase habitat diversity, and provide public access to the Bay.
The report’s inclusion of these elements highlights the growing consensus regarding the crucial role that wetlands restoration should play in helping address and adapt to the effects of climate change. Save The Bay Executive Director, David Lewis, commented on the report: “Restoring the Bay will help protect our communities from flooding and promote our region’s economy, all while enhancing water quality and wildlife habitat. This report shows why wetland restoration projects have overwhelming public support.”
Save The Bay is joining the Bay Area Council and other key stakeholders to raise awareness among businesses, elected officials, and community leaders about the potentially devastating consequences of a superstorm driven flood, and the critical role of accelerated, large scale wetlands restoration in protecting our region.