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 The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s maps of flood-prone areas are outdated and don’t reflect sea level rise projections.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Outdated maps give communities a false sense of security and lead to uninformed development decisions.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

Tell the EPA to Protect SF Bay against Cargill

Since last week over 1,600 people have taken action against Cargill and told the EPA to protect the Redwood City salt ponds. Now Bay Area members of Congress are also calling on the federal government to uphold the Clean Water Act and protect the Bay. Read more in the San Mateo Daily Journal and take action below. 

Redwood City Salt Ponds in Jeopardy
Tell the EPA to support the Clean Water Act and stop Cargill’s Bayfill development plan.

Two years ago, Save The Bay exposed Cargill’s goal of bullying federal agencies to declare the salt ponds in Redwood City exempt from the Clean Water Act and other protections.  After (temporarily) stopping them in their tracks, Cargill, the largest privately held corporation in the United States, is continuing its drive to pave over 1,400 acres of restorable salt ponds — again putting San Francisco Bay’s fragile shoreline at risk from development.

A leaked memo from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lawyers says the federal government should no longer apply Clean Water Act regulations to Cargill’s Redwood City salt ponds. This is exactly what Cargill has been heavily lobbying for behind the scenes. This dangerous re-interpretation of the Clean Water Act was created in secret, with no EPA participation, no approval from Congress, and no opportunity for public input. It’s outrageous!

Now we know Cargill has managed to convince an Army lawyer to support reversing decades of federal protection for Bay salt ponds. Any day, that agency could act on the memo and breathe life into the company’s reckless plan to pave over these Bay salt ponds.  But the EPA can still preserve legal protection for the Bay’s salt ponds. The agency has the authority to overrule the U.S. Army Corps and preserve Clean Water Act authority over Bay salt ponds.

Scientists agree that Cargill’s salt ponds in Redwood City are one of the most important shoreline habitats on the Bay. Surrounded by the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, the ponds are a wintering and migratory spot for tens of thousands of shorebirds. What’s more, some of the world’s last remaining endangered western snowy plovers depend on these ponds as breeding grounds.

Redwood City salt ponds offer a rare opportunity to restore San Francisco Bay’s tidal marshes, to benefit wildlife and the people of the Bay Area. We know it works because nearly-identical retired salt ponds near Vallejo were recently reconnected to the Bay, and wildlife is already flocking back. Redwood City’s salt ponds can have the same future if the EPA preserves Clean Water Act protection.

This issue is bigger the Bay. The Clean Water Act is the primary federal law governing water pollution—and undermining it here in San Francisco Bay puts wetlands across the United States at greater risk of development. It takes every one of us doing our part, working together, to protect and restore our most precious natural resource. Please donate today to support this important work.

TAKE ACTION and support SF Bay today!

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Sharing Inspiration to Save San Francisco Bay

Bart Ad
There’s a long history of fighting to save the Bay

It is interesting to learn how much the effort to save the Redwood City salt ponds from development is an inspiration to people all around the Bay Area. We are proud to be in the lead against this scheme to build a new city at sea level in San Francisco Bay, the biggest threat to our Bay in 50 years.

The campaign to save this important site for restoration already goes back at least a decade. Wherever I go and often no matter what subject is on the agenda, people I am meeting with frequently bring it up and ask about Cargill. And the context is invariably positive and supportive of Save The Bay’s work. It’s apparent that the Bay Area community is broadly inspired by this Baylands protection effort, by the folly of the Bayfill housing plan contrasted with the restoration vision for the site, and probably also by the drama of a small environmental group dueling one of the largest corporations on earth.

These are just a few recent examples:

  • A Bay Area high school student was recently in touch with Save The Bay and wrote a school paper about the controversial Cargill proposal. We regularly hear from students who are researching and writing about this issue, from law school to elementary schools. But this paper was a bit different. The student called us back to tell us that his paper had inspired his teacher to make a donation to Save The Bay.
  • Starting back in 2009, a group of current and former elected officials learned about Cargill’s threat to fill in these restorable salt ponds and began collecting names from each other to use their voices as community leaders to say “no.” Their collective statement of opposition to the grew rapidly in 2009 and 2010 until there are today almost 200 state and local leaders representing millions of Bay Area residents who are proud to publicly denounce plans to build in a restorable salt pond.
  • Most recently, we have seen months of engagement around the Cargill campaign from a group of second graders at Aurora Elementary School in Oakland. They have petitioned the Army Corps and the USEPA and gotten a notable response. They wrote to Cargill and also got a response from their Bay Area land manager, who reached out but then declined to participate in a debate with Save The Bay. And they made a video, which we hope to be able to share with you.

We ourselves are inspired by the work of so many that have stood up for the Bay over the years, including Matt Leddy & Gail Raabe whose work in Redwood City to preserve their threatened shoreline spans decades. You can watch their story here.

 

Weekly Roundup | September 27, 2013

San Francisco Chronicle Op-Ed 9/23/13
Redwood City wrong to let developers flout rules
We have trouble, right here in Redwood City. This is not “Music Man” wayward-youth trouble. It is City Council, City Planning Commission and City Planning Department trouble. Our trouble could potentially affect the whole Bay Area.
The trouble comes in various sizes, but it all involves a refusal of Redwood City to play by its own rules and implement its own codes and General Plan. What the city is doing – and citizens, courts and state commissions are attempting to stop – is ripping up the environmental and social fabric of an important part of the Bay Area piece by piece.
Read More>>newspaper

San Francisco Chronicle 9/25/13
Alameda Point studies threat of rising sea level
Plan on moving to Alameda Point someday? You might want to pack a swimsuit and snorkel.
Much of the former Naval Air Station – site of a projected 1,425-home development – will be underwater by the end of the century due to sea level rise brought on by climate change, according to the city’s draft environmental impact report on the project released this month.
Read More>>

 San Francisco Chronicle 9/27/13
Bechtel Gift to Help Transform Presidio
The largest cash gift in national parks history is intended to be the catalyst to create 10 acres of parkland connecting the heart of the Presidio to Crissy Field and the bay. The $25 million from the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation will fund more than half the estimated budget for what is being called Tunnel Top Parkland. A new bluff will cover the rebuilt Doyle Drive, allowing for an unbroken landscape from Crissy Field’s marsh inland to the Main Post of the former military base, which now is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Read more>>

Staff Profile | Meet Kaitlin Chandler

Kaitlin Chandler
Meet Kaitlin Chandler, Save The Bay’s Development Associate.

Meet Kaitlin Chandler, our Development Associate from Lafayette.

What other activities or hobbies do you enjoy?

Traveling! Plus anything outdoor and active; hiking, skiing, lacrosse, backpacking, and running to name a few.

Who is your environmental hero?

Save The Bay. I am so impressed by all the smart policies we have supported and enforced, all the land around the Bay we have protected and restored, and all the supporters and residents we have engaged. The organization has accomplished so much! But obviously has so much more to do.

What is one thing you do each day to protect the environment?

I don’t own a car so I BART/walk/bus/bike everywhere

What is your favorite thing about the San Francisco Bay Area?

It’s unique, pleasant, and beautiful landscape. So many places to hike, boat, bike and discover, where sunshine and mild weather are commonplace.