United We Plan, Divided We Flood
Robb Most, with thanks to LightHawk Conservation Flying

United We Plan, Divided We Flood

Wondering where the epicenter of sea level rise risk will be on the West Coast? From low-lying areas along San Mateo to the island of Alameda, and even inland stretches of Contra Costa County, the Bay Area bears this dubious distinction. The harmful impacts of sea level rise on the local economy, shoreline habitats, and flood zone communities will reverberate throughout the region.

For decades, climate scientists have urged local governments and agencies to do more to prepare for sea level rise. However, comprehensive, regional-scale preparation has so far failed due to the Bay Area’s lack of communication and coordination at the regional level.

As a result, the burden to plan has fallen on individual cities. But patchwork actions can have unintended consequences. For example, constructing a sea wall to protect one group of people from flooding can increase the risk of floods for people in neighboring communities. Building a development on a floodplain will have ramifications both for those who inhabit the development and communities further inland.

Luckily, the Bay Area still has the opportunity to build resilience to sea level rise in a coordinated fashion.

Every California city maintains a “General Plan” that identifies its top priorities and lays out a roadmap for achieving long-term goals. General Plans will therefore serve an important function as cities navigate sea level rise and climate change in the years to come. And when General Plans are shared and discussed between cities, they can be an invaluable tool for regional coordination, as well.

This is where Baykeeper comes in. We’ve developed a new initiative to help cities develop rigorous provisions to incorporate into their General Plans to prepare for sea level rise, taking both local and regional risks into account. Our goal is to work with cities in the Bay Area to protect communities, critical infrastructure, pinpoint toxic hotspots projected to flood, and identify nature-based solutions.

No city, not even Alameda, is an island when it comes to sea level rise. Coordination and careful planning will be key over the coming years. As the Bay rises, so too, must our efforts to work together.

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