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 The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s maps of flood-prone areas are outdated and don’t reflect sea level rise projections.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Outdated maps give communities a false sense of security and lead to uninformed development decisions.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

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

Communicating the Science that will Safeguard California

Save The Bay Executive Director David Lewis speaks at the 2017 California Climate Change Symposium in Sacramento.
Save The Bay Executive Director David Lewis speaks at the 2017 California Climate Change Symposium in Sacramento.

Environmental scientists, researchers, advocates, and policy makers descended upon Sacramento’s downtown district last week for the 2017 California Climate Change Symposium. The symposium served as a forum for veteran researchers, scientists, and newbies like myself from across the state and from across multiple disciplines, to share their research.

I really don’t think the timing could have been better.

With the assertion that global warming is still up for debate among the Trump administration’s top leaders, the symposium felt like an oasis of thoughtful discussion on safeguarding California from our planet’s changing climate. Emerging research ranged from drought and water management, to ocean acidification and hypoxia, to rising sea levels.

A sense of urgency and a need for climate facts as opposed to “alternative facts” was interlaced throughout the plenary sessions, making the significance of constant discussion about climate change even more clear and evident.  Save The Bay Executive Director David Lewis served as a panelist for a lunch session titled, “Communicating Science to California Public & Policymakers.” Lewis stressed the importance of focusing communication efforts on local and state elected leaders.

“How many people in the room talk to elected officials? You need to push them to do twice as much twice as fast, and the ones who aren’t doing anything, you need to push them to do something now,” said Lewis.  “It can be your local city council member who can do things in your town to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and to prepare for adaptation. That’s where we need to focus our communication.”

Communication is central to what I do here at Save The Bay. Every day my team and I look for new tools and tactics that will inform and educate our grassroots community about threats to the Bay. It’s my job to make science and data sexy to an audience that is being bombarded with sensational content every single minute. This poses both a challenge and an opportunity to reach audiences across the spectrum. Climate change is certainly a hot topic at the center of a contentious debate between those who have made environmental advocacy their life’s work, and those who would rather rest on “alternative facts” to further their own selfish political agendas. I left the symposium ready to find new ways to engage our audience in the issues surrounding climate change, and introduce them to some of the groundbreaking research I had the chance to observe.

Understanding the science that safeguards California will become more urgent than ever before as we move closer into the unprecedented aftermath of a Trump presidency.  Developing programs, strategies, and policies that will reduce greenhouse gasses and encourage adaptation to rising sea levels on the state and local level will remain crucial to California scientists and advocates.

Our future generations are depending on it.

Fighting Climate Change Deniers at the Local, State, and Federal Level

Together, we made a lot of progress on addressing climate change in the Bay in 2016, and Save The Bay is committed to intensifying the fight in 2017 and beyond.
Together, we made a lot of progress on addressing climate change in the Bay in 2016, and Save The Bay is committed to intensifying the fight in 2017 and beyond. Photo by Dan Sullivan.

It’s a new year, which in the case of 2017 means a new Congress and a new administration in Washington, D.C. Many of us in the Bay Area have a palpable sense of unease about what the impending changes in the federal government mean for the Bay and the environment more broadly. And on no issue is this concern felt more deeply than the fight to address climate change and its impacts.

Environmental advocates in the Bay Area – and California as a whole –  are determined and prepared to advance this fight, and we at Save The Bay are doing everything we can to ensure that climate change remains front and center in regional, state, and federal agendas over the coming years.

Here is what we are doing to make this happen:

On the local level

As the Bay Area rapidly grows in the coming years, we can help ensure that the growth happens in a way that minimizes the impact on the Bay and adapts to climate change. This is the aim of our new Bay Smart Communities Program, which promotes investment in green infrastructure, low-impact development, transit-oriented development, and increased affordable housing along the Bay. These “smart growth” components have a number of significant climate change-related benefits, including:

  • Reducing vehicle emissions and harmful pollutant runoff into the Bay by building higher density housing – particularly affordable housing – and commercial developments near public transit, allowing people to work in the same communities in which they live, thereby facilitating decreased vehicle use;
  • Conserving fresh water and slowing the flow of rain water by building “green streets” and plumbing systems that filter pollution from rain water and provide opportunities for its capture and local reuse; and,
  • Increasing urban green space, which enhances recreational space, encourages people to walk or bike instead of drive, and reduces urban heat islands that lead to higher local energy consumption.

On the state Level

We are fortunate to live in a state that has led the nation in the fight against climate change. Gov. Jerry Brown and our state legislature have already committed to pursuing continued aggressive action regardless of what happens in Washington, D.C. In 2017 and beyond, Save The Bay will:

  • Build on the success of Measure AA by advocating for additional state funding to match our regional investment, allowing for more Bay restoration that will protect the ecosystem while also safeguarding shoreline communities against climate change-induced threats like flooding due to sea level rise;
  • Build on the success of landmark 2016 climate mitigation legislation by advocating additional policies that further reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and provide communities – particularly low-income communities and communities of color, who suffer disproportionately from the impacts of climate change – with the resources to minimize these emissions and improve public health, safety, and quality of life; and,
  • Support other climate resiliency legislation to benefit the Bay, including bills dealing with stormwater management, green infrastructure investment, allocation of the state’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund monies, and water allocation and storage.

On the federal level

Despite what we expect to be a more climate-change skeptical and anti-environment leadership in Washington, D.C., over the next few years we will be more aggressive than ever in asserting the importance of federal environmental protection laws, regulations, and strong action on climate change. Already, we have:

  • Opposed the nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), citing his record of fighting EPA action on climate change and opposing enforcement of the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Protection Act – all vital laws that we rely on to help protect the Bay and its ecosystem, particularly in the face of climate change;
  • Urged our state’s newest U.S. Senator, Kamala Harris, to actively oppose Pruitt’s nomination in her capacity as a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee; and,
  • Discussed with our congressional partners the importance of creating a new federal program for San Francisco Bay restoration, including robust funding to match regional and state investments, both to ensure that the Bay ecosystem is protected into the future and to create a framework for addressing the growing threat of sea level rise and other climate-induced changes.

Together, we made a lot of progress on addressing climate change in the Bay in 2016, and Save The Bay is committed to intensifying the fight in 2017 and beyond.

Scott Pruitt is terrible news for the Bay

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President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is an ardent foe of environmental protection who has attacked the laws that protect our water, air and land. In short—he poses a big threat to the Bay.

Trump selected Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to run the federal agency that protects public health and the environment. It’s a frightening choice. Pruitt led attacks against the EPA’s regulations and challenged the legitimacy of the agency itself through lawsuits.  He is unapologetically anti-science and anti-environment, with close ties to the very corporations and industries he would be regulating.

For years Pruitt has attacked the EPA and the Clean Water Act – the cornerstone of pollution prevention and wetlands protection here in the Bay and throughout the nation. He has fought EPA action against climate change, and sued to dismantle crucial laws and regulations that protect all of us.

Pruitt was one of the first to sue the Obama administration to block EPA from protecting the drinking water sources of 117 million Americans, and attacked the rules that prevent development in “waters of the U.S.,” which protect Bay wetlands against filling. He led other state attorney generals in trying to block restoration of Chesapeake Bay by filing an amicus brief on supporting draconian litigation, even though that Bay is more than 1,000 miles from Oklahoma.

He also crusaded against the EPA’s standards for reducing soot and smog pollution, its protections against toxic pollutants from power plants, and its authority to improve air quality in national parks and wilderness areas.

Pruitt proudly touts himself as a fan of fossil fuels.  And he supported fracking throughout Oklahoma with minimal regulation to protect groundwater.

I have no doubt that he would lead the Trump Administration’s effort to defund the EPA and cripple its enforcement against polluters. So to save the Bay, we must fight to stop Scott Pruitt’s nomination, and we need your help now.

For the Bay we love, the air we breathe and the water we drink, we call on the U.S. Senate to oppose Scott Pruitt’s nomination.

With the help of our thousands of members and supporters, Save The Bay will:

  • Demand that the U.S. Senate oppose Scott Pruitt’s nomination. We need help from our supporters to mobilize California’s Senators and others throughout the nation to block Scott Pruitt from becoming EPA Administrator.
  • Support our elected officials here in California to pursue strong state protections for the Bay, to counter the Trump Administration’s anti-environment policies.
  • Continue our leadership to protect and improve our environment, right here in the Bay Area. In the Trump era, effective local organizing and action is more important than ever.

We will stand up and fight for the health of our Bay and our environment. But we can’t do this important work without help from our supporters.

I’ve seen anti-environment Presidents before. They come to Washington, DC, and try to destroy protections for water, air and land that are essential for public health, wildlife, and the planet.  It takes strong, coordinated advocacy from people and organizations at the local, state and federal level to block them, and Save The Bay will join that effort with our colleagues and environmental champions in government.

We’ve also proven how much we can accomplish for the Bay without relying on the federal government for help.  New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has observed:

“If you want to be an optimist about America, stand on your head — the country looks so much better from the bottom up. What you see are towns and regions not waiting for Washington, D.C., but coming together themselves to fix infrastructure, education and governance.”

The Bay Area is a shining example of that, and Save The Bay has been a leading force for regional progress:

  • We worked for over a decade to create a new Bay Area funding source to accelerate Bay marsh restoration, building a broad coalition that ultimately won 70% voter support for the Measure AA parcel tax in the nine counties this June.
  • We endorsed nine successful local bond and tax measures for transportation, housing and infrastructure that can help the Bay Area grow sustainably, to be healthy and resilient.
  • We’re convening mayors and city staff from all nine counties to promote green infrastructure that adapts our communities to climate change, reduces Bay pollution and improves natural resources.

In Save The Bay’s 2020 Strategic Plan we set ambitious goals for improving the Bay and the Bay Area, and most of that is within our power as a region and a state.

We will combat the Trump Administration’s anti-environment agenda, and we will continue to make more progress—for the planet, and right here at home for San Francisco Bay.


Please consider supporting Save The Bay as we fight Scott Pruitt’s nomination and Donald Trump’s dangerous attacks on our environment.