Sea level rise is not evenly distributed globally. The coastline of western North America has not faced the same level of challenges of the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts but addressing and adapting to sea level rise in California is a top priority. The 2015 Coastal Symposium united leaders in coastal resiliency planning from municipalities, state and federal agencies, academia, and the private sector. Our Director of Ecology and California native, Nick Buhbe, attended the symposium and shares his top take-aways ranging from notable coastal projects to adaptive planning tools already in use.
Leading researcher and consultant, Dr. Reinhard E. Flick of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, shared his extensive research in coastal processes including sea level rise (SLR), effects of tides and storm surge, and coastal erosion.
Based on what is known from studies of the polar regions, there is already 30-40 feet of SLR which “baked in” to the climate change which is unavoidable; the question is how fast will the SLR be realized.
Changes will not be overnight, but the effects are likely to be driven by chance coincidence of storm surges and high tide events. At low tide, effects of storm surges or large wave events will be relatively muted. However, when the high wave events or storm surges occur over long periods of time or match with “king tides,” the effects will be significant as areas not usually inundated become flooded.
The California Coastal Commission’s Draft Sea Level Rise Policy Guidance is a framework addressing sea level rise in Local Coastal Programs (LCPs) and Coastal Development Permits (CDPs). Specifically, it details how the State intends to apply the California Coastal Act, the primary coastal management law to address land use, public access and recreation, and the protection of coast and ocean resources.
Following sessions presented case studies of Local Seas Level Rise Adaptation Planning Projects funded by the California Coastal Conservancy, Coastal Commission and Ocean Protection Council. Key take-aways from the case studies:
Where we are:
We’ve built many models and used them and other tools to inform vulnerability.
Where were going:
Vulnerability studies and adaptation pathway analyses have been used to develop site-specific projects, which have been implemented and are in the process of being evaluated for lessons learned.
Of particular interest to Great Ecology’s coastal scientists was the Thin Layer Salt Marsh Sediment Augmentation Project.
We know successful resiliency projects may include artificial reefs, tidal marsh enhancements, living or soft shorelines, and dunes. However, there are still a few big questions remaining:
An Orange County pilot study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the Prado Dam is currently under consideration to study one application of this idea.
Presenters advised although SLR and climate change are often met with skepticism, communicating the importance of protecting infrastructure and responsible taxpayer fund management has been well received.
As we know sea level rise and resiliency planning and adaption are highly complex. Currently in California, pilot projects are being implemented at the local levels, and the lessons learned from these first steps will greatly inform what tools can be effectively implemented to minimize catastrophic effects.