News

Report: Cities unprepared for sea-level rise

Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury finds local response is inadequate

The Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury has a message for city and county officials who are dragging their feet regarding sea-level rise: Get with the program.

Mired in complacency toward what they see as a slow-moving emergency, public agencies are not adequately preparing for future flooding from climate change, the grand jury found after investigating a complaint questioning countywide planning and preparedness related to rising seas.

Grand jurors made three determinations in their report, titled, "A Slow Rising Emergency -- Sea Level Rise": current flood-control measures won't prevent flooding from higher water levels; cities abutting the bay, along with the county, are inconsistent in their responses to the problem; and not every government entity that should be addressing sea-level rise is doing so.

"Consequently, we have a disjointed approach within the county to address the ramifications," they wrote in a 26-page report released June 16.

The grand jury cited several studies and reports that identified sea-level rise as an emergency in California. Average sea level in California is projected to increase by an additional six inches by 2030, 12 inches by 2050 and 36 inches by 2100, according to a 2012 report by the National Research Council.

The cost of not addressing the sea-level rise would be devastating, the grand jury noted. Santa Clara County ranks second in the state in potential losses due to flooding and third in the number of people who would be exposed to flood dangers, according to an April 2013 report, "California's Flood Future," by the California State Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Sea-level changes could affect 270,000 people -- and more than 257 technology companies -- and destroy $62 billion in shoreline development, according to the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and sea-level experts.

Mountain View has done the most to address the problem; Milpitas has done nothing, the grand jury found.

Palo Alto has done some work -- mainly through its plans for San Francisquito Creek. But it is ignorant of other cities' efforts, and it has focused on sustainability and greenhouse-gas reduction, but not sea-level rise, in its Climate Action Plan, the report noted.

The city also released a 2014 "Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment" report, but sea-level rise is not one of the hazards in the report. Flooding and severe winter storms are listed hazards, however, the grand jury noted.

Mountain View has a 12-project plan in place. Its Public Works Department produced a feasibility report and capital-improvement program for the Shoreline Regional Park community, which addressed sea-level threats to the entire city.

Mountain View is also looking at possible improvements to Charleston Slough and the Palo Alto flood-basin levees as well as to the Charleston Slough tide gates. Costs for the suite of projects is estimated at $43 million to $57 million, about half of which the city expects to directly fund, according to Lisa Au, City of Mountain View principal civil engineer.

The grand jury concluded that much of the inertia is attributable to a lack of state and county direction. State Assembly Bill 32, the 2008 California Global Warming Solution Act, directs county governments to develop action plans to reduce greenhouse gasses to 1990 levels by 2020, but there is no comparable legislation to address sea-level rise.

There is also no joint-power authority or any other agreement between the Santa Clara Valley Water District and the cities. The grand jury found a number of deficiencies in Santa Clara Valley Water District, which by law is responsible for flood control in the county. The water district has held only one public meeting since July 2012 on sea-level rise, the jurors noted.

The grand jury recommended the water district take a more proactive role to unify, integrate and direct the cities' and county's efforts on sea-level rise. Palo Alto and the other cities should prioritize the issue at a higher level. And Palo Alto should identify sea-level rise as a hazard in its Threat and Hazard assessment plan, the report noted.

The looming problem was the focus of a June 19 conference spearheaded by U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, state Assemblyman Rich Gordon and NASA Ames in Mountain View, which drew 250 people.

Len Materman, executive director of the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority, said his agency has developed the SAFER Bay Project. It is the largest multi-county sea-level rise project in the state. SAFER Bay will design and conduct environmental reviews of levees and of new flood-mitigation facilities for Palo Alto, Menlo Park and East Palo Alto. Its goal is to protect the cities from a 100-year bay tide with 3 feet of sea-level rise.

The San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority is also spearheading the $37-million San Francisquito Creek flood-control project. Earlier this month Caltrans began construction on part of the creek project, addressing bridging across U.S. Highway 101.

Experts said at the conference that gauges in San Francisco Bay dating to 1857 revealed the sea level has risen about 7 inches in the past 100 years.

Palo Alto City Councilman Greg Scharff said the conference has convinced him that the city needs to take another look at its shoreline plans when it looks to update its pending Sustainability and Climate Action Plan.

"There seems to be so much more we can do in light of what was said today," he said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has pointed to three main reasons for ocean-level rise: oceanic thermal expansion, which occurs when water constrained by land masses heats and moves upward onto low-lying areas; melting glaciers and polar ice caps; and ice loss from Greenland and Antarctica.

Related content:

Experts: Rising sea level needs to be top priority

Comments

16 people like this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 26, 2015 at 11:55 am

Alarmist foolishness...but a politician's dream (more taxes, and governmental power through unnecessary regulations). There is NO serious scientific evidence that the SF Bay faces significant sea level rise in the foreseeable future...although land subsidence is always a possibility.


10 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 26, 2015 at 12:37 pm

>> "Average sea level in California is projected to increase by an additional six inches by 2030"

Whoa, I'll take the other side of that bet, and give 10 to 1.


2 people like this
Posted by apexxscout
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 26, 2015 at 1:20 pm

[Post removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by Deniers among us
a resident of another community
on Jun 26, 2015 at 1:27 pm

[Post removed due to deletion of referenced comment.]


5 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 26, 2015 at 3:50 pm

Denial is the common reaction to bad news. It is never an effective reaction. Bleep happens anyway.


1 person likes this
Posted by Walter
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 26, 2015 at 3:55 pm

If we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions in Palo Alto or put them somewhere else the sea level will rise that much less in Palo Alto.


6 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 26, 2015 at 4:58 pm

Bet on it. By years end the City of Palo Alto will hire a new Ass't. City Manager at $250,000 to hire more people to design attractive residential boat docks, sell life jackets, set up mandatory swimming lessons (remember 'duck and cover' in the bomb days), and make sure that Jamie Rodriguez gets all the 'water issue contracts'.


3 people like this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 26, 2015 at 5:39 pm

Many high school students with decent math skills can create maps that show the flood levels, ASSUMING a rise in sea levels (plus or minus the ASSUMED land subsidence). Why the big deal at this conference? There is NO serious evidence that the sea level WILL rise...therefore, why was this conference held?

Such alarmism should just be ignored. It's main purpose is to gain political power through increased taxation and regulations.


3 people like this
Posted by Steve Case
a resident of another community
on Jun 26, 2015 at 8:25 pm

Sue Dremann reported that ... average sea level in California is projected to increase 36 inches by 2100 ...

Thirty-six inches by 2100 requires an average rate of sea level rise of almost 11 mm/yr for the next 85 years.

The Permanent Service for Mean Sea Level shows us that California has 18 tide gauges from Crescent City to San Diego and 8 of them have records going back 60 years or more. Analysis of the past 60 years in two 30 year time series shows that from 1954 through 1983 those 8 gauges averaged 1.6 mm/yr of sea level rise, and from 1984 through 2013 those same gauges averaged 0.4 mm/yr. None of them showed an increase.

Globally satellite data kept by Colorado University's Sea Level Research Group goes back 22 years, and from 1992 through 2003 the rate of sea level rise was 3.5 mm/yr and from 2004 through 2014 the rate dropped to 3.0 mm/yr.

Anyone with some curiosity and modest Excel ability can verify these numbers..

Steve Case - Milwaukee, WI


5 people like this
Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 26, 2015 at 8:46 pm

The last time I commented that we only see "projections" of sea level rise, but never hear of real measurements of sea level rise,... well my post was removed!

Let's see if it happens again.


6 people like this
Posted by mathematician
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 26, 2015 at 8:59 pm

And anyone with high school math skills, which excludes Craig Laughton and Steve Case, knows about the fallacy of assuming linear growth projections. ALL physical systems are nonlinear. But dealing with them requires handling exponents greater than one, which is beyond the skills of all these deniers.


6 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 26, 2015 at 9:11 pm

Precisely why sea level will not rise forever.


4 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 27, 2015 at 6:46 am

Nature doesn't care about your opinions, religions, or financial interests. It's going to happen no matter what you write or say.


2 people like this
Posted by Steve Case
a resident of another community
on Jun 27, 2015 at 7:16 am

Mathematician from Midtown implied that a review of the empirical record from tide gauges and satellite altimetry amounted to a linear projection. The Midtown Mathematician came up with any projections, linear exponential or otherwise, from that review all by himself.

Steve Case - Milwaukee, WI


2 people like this
Posted by old but wise
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 27, 2015 at 11:34 am

No one is worried about this? I guess when you live in earthquake country and only a handful of residents have adequate emergency supplies on hand... you ignore the potential of anything?
The glaciers and "poles" are melting..the water is going somewhere...when Katrina happened everyone was horrified... well wake up Palo Alto the levees are not in good order. We have seen floods in East Palo Alto and in east Palo Alto( west of 101) The writing is on the wall. I could say...well my solar will pump the water out of my house... hmmm. Maybe I will add a boat to my emergency kit.....at least I will have food to eat while the water subsides.


Like this comment
Posted by Julius
a resident of Monroe Park
on Jun 28, 2015 at 5:21 pm

The solution is straightfrward: The Golden Gate Bridge becomes the Golden Gate Dam


Like this comment
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 28, 2015 at 5:39 pm

>And anyone with high school math skills, which excludes Craig Laughton and Steve Case, knows about the fallacy of assuming linear growth projections. ALL physical systems are nonlinear.

I am not a mathematician, like you, apparently. I only went through differential equations in college. However I do understand the difference between linear and exponential. Yes, nature is full of non-linear models. The questions is when and where. The alarmists don't seem to have a clue. For example, the CO2 levels have increased in the atmosphere, over the past 15 years or so, but the temperature of the earth has not. This is an inconvenient (and non linear) truth.

I think it would be best, if we could all agree that we cannot predict the future climate, linear or non-linear.


Like this comment
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 28, 2015 at 6:24 pm

"CO2 levels have increased in the atmosphere, over the past 15 years or so, but the temperature of the earth has not."

Don't trade those bikinis for parkas yet. We ran short on solar radiation this solar cycle, but the GHGs held the fort and kept us from cooling off. Sun gets gling again, we resume toasting up.

(Funny, couple years ago the no-nos were telling us the sun was sending out more radiation and warming us up, never mind the solar flux data. Now they tellus we're thermally level, but never mind the cooling sun. It don't add up, gang)

Nevertheless, the global temperature keeps setting annual record highs exceeding anything recorded in the 20-th century Web Link . Go figure.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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