Flooding Study Results Require Action

When heavy rains returned to California last winter after an extensive drought, some Bay Area cities experienced flooding for the first time in many years.  Now, a new study shows that kind of flooding will become chronic in many Bay Area locations in the decades to come.

The Union of Concerned Scientists report provides even more detail on how much climate change will affect specific Bay shoreline cities, and how soon.

As early as 2035, neighborhoods all around the Bay Area–on Bay Farm Island, Alameda, Redwood Shores, Sunnyvale, Alviso, Corte Madera, and Larkspur– would experience flooding 26 times per year or more, and that’s with moderate sea level rise.  By 2060, the number of affected neighborhoods grows to include Oakland, Milpitas, Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, and others along the corridor between San Francisco and Silicon Valley. If the sea level rises faster, that frequency of flooding will occur sooner. Read the full report at http://bit.ly/2vacc5j.

The report raises another problem. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s maps of flood-prone areas are outdated and don’t reflect sea level rise projections. Those maps determine where property owners can and cannot qualify for federally-subsidized flood insurance, and where communities must construct additional flood protection to retain that insurance.

Outdated maps give communities a false sense of security and lead to uninformed development decisions.  Just ask those homeowners near Coyote Creek in San Jose who were flooded out a few months ago.

The State of California and its agencies, including the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, should be aggressively reducing risks to people and property from climate impacts – that has been explicit in the State’s climate adaptation strategy since 2009.  Pressing FEMA for updated maps should be high on the priority list.

Here’s a report on the UCS study in the San Jose Mercury News, which quotes Save The Bay:

A Feb. 21 photo from a San Jose city worker shows flooding at 1742 Rock Springs Drive. (City of San Jose)
A Feb. 21 photo from a San Jose city worker shows flooding at 1742 Rock Springs Drive. (City of San Jose)

Chronic flooding from rising seas could plague many Bay Area waterfront communities such as East Palo Alto, Alameda and San Mateo within four decades, a nonprofit science group said in a report released Wednesday.

While other studies have predicted inundation of coastal cities, this new study by the Union of Concerned Scientists is the first to put dates on when towns that ring the San Francisco Bay would regularly experience chronic flooding.

Rather than slam shoreline communities with epic floods every few years, rising sea levels threatens to flood streets, yards, parks, homes and businesses in low-lying areas several times a year, the scientists said.

“Cities around the San Francisco Bay will begin to experience more frequent and disruptive flooding in the coming decades and will have to make tough decisions around whether to defend existing homes and businesses or to retreat,” said Erika Spanger-Siegfried, senior analyst in the Climate and Energy Program at UCS and a report author.

Airports and low-income housing in low areas are particularly vulnerable, the study said.

While airports can draw on business income to pay for defenses against rising seas, many poorer neighborhoods are hard pressed to afford bigger seawalls or levees or to move people out of flood-prone areas, said Kristy Dahl, a UCS climate scientist and co-author of the report.

She said the report underscores the need for federal policies to help local communities.

“We shouldn’t have some communities left behind simply because they don’t have the resources of their neighbors,” Dahl said in an Oakland press conference to discuss the study. “A large number of these communities don’t have the resources they truly need to adapt.”

Last year, the federal government announced its first grant to buy and relocate a small town — Isle de Jean Charles, La. — for $48 million after concluding it was not worth trying to save the community in place.

The Union for Concerned Scientists study assessed three scenarios — low, intermediate and high sea-level rise — by the years 2060 and 2100, depending on the pace of emissions and melting rates of polar ice. An interactive series of maps show when inundated communities may reach tipping point, with at least 10 percent of usable land flooded at least 26 times per year.

The study found that:

  • By 2060, in the high sea level rise scenario, parts of many Bay Area communities would face flooding 26 times or more per year, or every other week. Communities with affected neighborhoods include Alameda, Oakland, Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, San Mateo, Burlingame, San Francisco, Corte Madera and Larkspur.
  • By 2100, in the intermediate sea level rise scenario, chronic flooding would affect public infrastructure such as San Francisco International Airport, Oakland International Airport, San Quentin State Prison, Moffett Federal Airfield and the Bay Bridge.
  • By 2100, in the intermediate sea level rise scenario, two Bay Area communities would see more than 10 percent of their land chronically flooded: Alameda and San Mateo.
  • By 2100, in the high sea level rise scenario, more than half of Alameda, about 11 percent of South San Francisco and about 14 percent of Oakland’s land area would be chronically flooded.

“Imagine what it would be like to have your driveway and backyard flooded every every other week on average,” Dahl said, “And you can’t let your kids play in the back yard because it’s flooded.”

The “low scenario” assumes a San Francisco Bay water level rise of around 2 feet by 2100, a carbon emissions decline, and global warming limited to less than two degrees Celsius — in line with the primary goal of the Paris Agreement.

The “intermediate scenario” projects a four-foot water level rise and carbon emissions peaking around mid-century and about four feet of sea level rise globally. In the high scenario, emissions rise through the end of the century and ice melts faster, causing 6.5 feet of sea  level rise.

The group applauded efforts by cities such as San Francisco and Foster City, which already have begun planning where and how to build seawalls and levees. Other regions — such as the cities of Alameda, Hayward and Oakland and Contra Costa, San Mateo, Alameda and Santa Clara  counties — are close behind, identifying potential strategies.

Welcoming the report, David Lewis of the Oakland-based nonprofit Save The Bay said it underscored the need for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to update Bay Area flood maps to reflect new projections. Those flood maps determine where property owners can and cannot qualify for federally-subsidized flood insurance, and where communities must construct additional flood protection to retain that insurance.

He urged the state to press FEMA to update the maps. Congress also must be prodded to provide funding for the updates, he added.

“If maps don’t incorporate projections for sea level rise — and for increased frequency of flooding from extreme storms independent of sea level rise — then communities have a false sense of security, and property values, as well as public and private planning and development decisions, don’t accurately reflect risks,” said Lewis.

“Ask those homeowners near Coyote Creek,” which flooded last winter, he said.


This article was originally published in The Mercury News by Lisa Kreiger and Denis Cuff on 7/12/2017. 

3 Island Getaways in the Bay

Angel Island
You don’t need a plane ticket for an island getaway. Angel Island offers one of the island adventures you could have in San Francisco Bay. Photo: Jerry Ting

If you’ve been dreaming of a summer escape to an island paradise, but your piggy bank has other ideas, take heart. We’ve got our own islands right here in San Francisco Bay. You may even catch a balmy breeze, watch palm trees sway, and enjoy a stunning sunset. Now is a great time to visit some of the Bay’s best attractions. No plane ticket needed.

Angel Island State Park

Angel Island offers sweeping views of the Bay, terrific hikes, and campsites from which you can see the twinkling urban skylines that surround it. Pack your satchel with sleeping bag and supplies, and take the Blue and Gold ferry over. Recommended hikes include the five-mile perimeter trail and the trek up to Mt. Livermore, where hikers are treated to a panoramic view of the Bay and Golden Gate. Reserve a campsite online at Reserve America. Bring a gas stove or charcoal for cooking, as no fires are allowed.

Alameda

From its palm-tree lined boulevards, to its sleepy, small town atmosphere, Alameda offers a surprisingly different experience than the rest of the bustling Bay Area. Hipsters with children, who have fled SF for easier living and better schools, rub shoulders with retirees and Bay Area natives, giving the place a Mayberry-meets-Brooklyn vibe.  Yet it’s just minutes from downtown Oakland by car, and accessible by Ferry from SF.  Start at Crown Memorial State Beach and soak up some sunshine. It’s the largest, most stunning beach on the Bay, and a great place to walk and bike. Head over to St. George Spirits for one of the best tours (and tastings) in the Bay Area.  To get a real feel of the Alameda vibe, check out Speisekammer Restaurant, a homey spot with a great wine and beer selection.

Treasure Island

Come for the wine. Stay for the sunset. Since the Navy decommissioned Treasure Island in 1996, it’s exploded with housing, becoming a bedroom community to San Francisco. Surprisingly, it’s also become quite a wine destination, with several urban wineries setting up shop. Napa it’s not, but hey, you can get there on Muni! Take the Muni 108 from San Francisco’s Transbay Terminal and visit Treasure Island Wines, The Winery SF, Erista, and Bravium, and Fat Grape Wineries, most of which are clustered along 9th Street near Avenue of the Palms, and are open on weekends until 5 pm.

I’m for the Bay because…

IMG_1968_fb2What do you love about San Francisco Bay? Everyone who lives in the Bay Area has fallen for the Bay at some point, which explains why Bay Area natives are so proud of this area. The Bay adds to the beauty of the region and connects unique and bustling cities that comprise the San Francisco Bay Area. Growing up in Alameda, I’ve had the unique opportunity to take my dog along the Bay within a 5 minute walk.  It’s hard to imagine not having that chance to enjoy the Bay at least once a week. The Bay is a constant reminder of just how lucky we are to live in such a gorgeous region.

For my summer project at Save The Bay, it only seemed fitting to focus on local love for the Bay, its importance, and how it brings together people from many different walks of life. I wanted to take photos of Bay Area residents expressing their love for the Bay and its importance to them. The Bay has different meanings to different people, but in the end they all connect to the fact that the Bay has significant importance to each person. This project engages different types of people, such as bicyclists, parents, runners, outdoorsy people, and environmentalists about their love for the Bay.

During the process of asking people to fill out the signs for the pictures, I found it interesting how most people picked “My favorite spot along the Bay is…” sign instead of “I am for the Bay because…”.  Several people mentioned that it was hard from them to describe, in one phrase, the exact reasons why they are for restoring the Bay. After I thought about that, it made sense because I had trouble explaining it myself. Of course I am for protecting the Bay (I do work for Save The Bay, right?!), but they are abstract reasons, so it is hard to articulate in one sentence. Maybe that is the point; many of us cannot imagine the Bay Area if the Bay was taken out of the equation because the region would not have the same feel without it. 

As you can see from this photo project, Save The Bay’s restoration efforts matter to people from all walks of life — from dogs, to adults, to teenagers. We all have reasons for protecting the Bay, and there are dozens of spots along the shoreline where we can experience our personal moments of appreciation for living in such a beautiful place. Personally, I am for the Bay because I want my future family to be able to enjoy living in the Bay Area just as much as I have. And my favorite spot along the Bay? It’s where I can sit on top of a cement boat on the edge of Bay Farm Island in Alameda and look out directly across the Bay to see the Bay Bridge, an outline of San Francisco, Oakland and the rest of Alameda.

View all the photos from this project here.