Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sea level rise could threaten residents, but SF Bay Area has no comprehensive protection strategy

Julia Scott in the Silicon Valley Mercury News: Within two decades, developers could be enthusiastically selling stunning views, bay breezes — and up to 56,000 new homes — along the edge of San Francisco Bay. One thing their brochures won't mention: rising sea levels that could transform today's bay front into a perpetual flood zone.

Only half of the Bay Area's 12 proposed major bay-front developments have a strategy for the expected rise in sea level that experts warn could endanger hundreds of thousands of residents and cause some $56.5 billion in property damage in San Mateo, Alameda and Santa Clara counties by the end of the century.

With 2 million new residents projected to move to the Bay Area in the next 25 years, the issue of rising sea levels has added a new layer to a fierce regional debate over whether it is appropriate to build along the bay — or whether we should retreat from the water altogether.

…Even though they are hungry for housing, cash-strapped bay-front cities are not inclined to spend millions of dollars on solutions to prevent future flooding. And no agency has the authority to require that cities take sea-level. So decisions over whether to build levees and how high to build them usually fall to a developer, said Will Travis, executive director of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission.

A few developers are taking up the challenge, but with wildly different solutions. While one developer proposes literally raising Treasure Island to keep future neighborhoods there high and dry, developers of Redwood City's Saltworks property plan to build up earthen levees to protect thousands of people from flooding. Others — like San Francisco's Mission Bay project, which will boast more than 6,000 housing units when complete — have no flood-protection strategy at all….

An aerial view of the highly vulnerable port in Redwood City, California, shot by the US Army Corps of Engineers

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