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 The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s maps of flood-prone areas are outdated and don’t reflect sea level rise projections.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Outdated maps give communities a false sense of security and lead to uninformed development decisions.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. 

Climate Progress is Up to Us, not Trump

Fog-streaks-and-bay Mike-Oria_4.03.15
President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord is wrong for the planet, public health, and the U.S. economy. But three months into the most backward Administration in generations, his reckless move is not a surprise. Ignorance, provincialism and allegiance to fossil fuel barons are dominant in this White House, with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt leading the anti-science, anti-environment, pro-polluting industry interests. The Administration had already taken many actions to reverse climate gains from the Obama Administration.

Trump had already announced he would repeal air pollution regulations on the dirtiest power plants, end restrictions on oil drilling in ocean waters, encourage new coal leases on federal land, allow construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, and loosen environmental standards for fracking of oil and gas. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

We’ve known for months this President’s true colors. His criminal rejection of climate solutions means all of us must continue the Bay Area’s and California’s leadership to cut greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, and accelerate adaptation for resilient cities and natural habitat. 

Trump’s actions are frightening, but Save The Bay’s record makes us hopeful. We’ve labored for over a decade to create new local funding for Bay wetland restoration, building a broad coalition that ultimately won 70% voter support for the Measure AA parcel tax throughout the region last June.

With thousands of members and supporters, and a public and leaders who understand the climate challenge, we can continue to make progress. So we’ll continue our leadership to protect and improve our environment, right here in the Bay Area.

Our effective local organizing and action to accelerate wetland restoration, protect shorelines against flooding, and make cities “Bay Smart,” is more important than ever. We’ll keep organizing with mayors and officials from all nine counties to promote green infrastructure that adapts our communities to climate change, reduces Bay pollution and improves natural resources. We’ll keep proving by the ongoing economic success of the Bay Area that leadership on climate change is a spur to innovation that supports sustainable growth, and that we can translate that growth into good green jobs that will help transition our region, our nation, and the world to clean energy and low-impact development.

And we’ll support elected officials here in California to pursue strong state protections for the Bay and environment, to counter the Trump Administration’s anti-environment policies. Save The Bay has endorsed bills moving through the state legislature to do exactly that.

With your help, we won’t let Trump drag down our country and the planet. Our fight for a healthy Bay and resilient Bay Area will keep our region strong and beautiful.


Further suggested reading:

An Earth Day Present for Scott Pruitt

Screen Shot 2017-04-21 at 10.59.34 AM
Back in February America’s newest EPA
Administrator Scott Pruitt famously said on CNBC’s Squawk Box,

I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate
is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement
about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that [carbon dioxide]
is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

This statement is not only alarming, but it also discredits the climate research conducted by the nation’s top organizations including the EPA, NASA, and NOAA, all of which agree that carbon dioxide emissions are a key driver of climate change.

It was painfully clear that Pruitt forgot to do his science homework and was desperately in need of some help. So, we decided purchase a copy of Global Warming for Dummies and even asked hundreds of Save The Bay supporters to sign the book.

Thanks to you we’re now ready to ship a copy to Washington D.C. just in time for Earth Day so Pruitt can study up and faithfully execute his core duty as EPA Administrator: make America green again.

We hope you enjoy your present, Scott!

Op-Ed: Trump budget would make America dirty and sick again

Jorge Gonzalez, searches for debris near collected old tires at Warm Water Cove, in San Francisco, Calif., as he joins hundreds of volunteers participating in the Community Team's Coastal Cleanup Day, at different locations along the San Francisco Bay shoreline, on Sat. September 19, 2015. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle
Jorge Gonzalez, searches for debris near collected old tires at Warm Water Cove, in San Francisco, Calif., as he joins hundreds of volunteers participating in the Community Team’s Coastal Cleanup Day, at different locations along the San Francisco Bay shoreline, on Sat. September 19, 2015. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle

President Trump’s budget proposal is a direct assault on our health and safety. The enormous cuts he is proposing to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other departments will hurt people and the planet by gutting enforcement of laws that protect the water we drink, the air we breathe and the environment that sustains us.

How many voters last year asked for more smoggy skies and fouled water, for less enforcement of criminal pollution and faster climate change? It’s doubtful most Trump voters want that, but his budget sides with polluter interests and climate deniers — not with us.

The EPA has a huge responsibility but a tiny budget. Out of every $10 in federal taxes, just two cents goes to the EPA. Cutting the EPA’s budget by 31 percent would not save much money, but it would cost a lot in lives, in lost productivity from illness and in pollution damage to crucial resources such as San Francisco Bay.

The Bay is our region’s greatest natural treasure, the heart of our economy and quality of life. It took enormous effort to return the Bay to health from near-death 40 years ago, when it was choked with garbage, sewage and industrial waste.

The Clean Water Act and the EPA helped build treatment plants in the 1970s that made the Bay’s beaches safe and its waters swimmable again. Harbor porpoises have even returned to the Bay.

As the Bay Area keeps growing, we need more federal investment, not less, to combat the impacts of climate change, freshwater diversion and polluted storm water pouring unfiltered off streets into the Bay.

Bay Area voters agreed to tax themselves in last year’s Measure AA to accelerate shoreline wetlands restoration that’s mostly within a federal wildlife refuge. The federal government should match our investment, yet Trump’s budget would zero out EPA’s $5 million program that protects marsh habitat and reduces pollution in the Bay.

And the cuts go much deeper.

The Bay Area environment is not a bubble. We’re connected to the rest of California and the nation, where the EPA’s programs have made people and wildlife healthier and safer. Agency warnings about threats to fish species and water quality in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta are forcing a rewrite of Gov. Jerry Brown’s California Water Fix. The EPA’s Clean Air Act enforcement reduced smog from Los Angeles to Pittsburgh and forced safer drinking water in cities nationwide. To avoid more health crises like the tragedy in Flint, Mich., we need a stronger EPA, not budget cuts that slash enforcement.

The EPA identifies and cleans up toxic waste at Superfund sites, including more than 50 in the Bay Area. Its Toxics Release Inventory publishes data online so we know the pollution risks in our backyards. It is on the front lines of addressing the climate change that is already hurting our health, natural resources and economy.

The EPA has helped cut global warming gases from U.S. power plants, factories and cars, and its energy efficiency standards have reduced our consumption of fossil fuels. While Trump and his Cabinet deny facts and ignore science, the EPA is required by law to limit the carbon emissions that are cooking the planet. But that takes resources and staff that Trump would cut.

We must tell Congress to reject reckless budget cuts to environmental protection. Every mayor and city council member must echo that call. Our governor and state Legislature must keep their pledge to enforce laws if the federal government does relax its efforts, and fund enforcement of those laws.

Trump’s budget would make America dirty and sick again, and nobody who breathes or drinks should stand for it.

 

David Lewis is the executive director of Save the Bay. Learn more at www.savesfbay.org.
This Op-ed was originally published in the SF Chronicle on 3/18,2017. 

Wetland Restoration is working. Here’s how.

From our friends at San Francisco Bay Joint Venture, these videos show how wetland restoration is working throughout the Bay Area. 

Check out the videos and take action to support wetland restoration projects near you.

Wetland Restoration is Working, Video Short # 1 – Heron’s Head Park

Wetland Restoration is Working, Video Short # 2 – San Pablo Bay