What threat does sea-level rise pose to California?

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The Legislative Analyst’s Office has just published the following report:

What Threat Does Sea-Level Rise Pose to California?

While the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and resulting economic impacts have rightly been the focus of the Legislature’s and public’s attention in recent months, the impending impacts of climate change continue to loom on the horizon, including the hazards that rising seas pose to California’s coast. Given the significant public infrastructure, housing, natural resources, and commerce located along California’s 840 miles of coastline, the certainty of rising seas poses a serious and costly threat. Because the most severe effects of sea-level rise may not show up for decades, taking actions to address them now may seem less pressing compared to more immediate pandemic-related challenges. The magnitude of the potential impacts, however, mean that the state cannot afford to indefinitely delay taking steps to prepare.

This report describes available research on how rising seas threaten California’s coast in seven categories: public infrastructure, private property, vulnerable communities, natural resources, drinking and agricultural water supplies, toxic contamination, and economic disruption. Some key findings from existing research include:

  • Between $8 billion and $10 billion of existing property in California is likely to be underwater by 2050, with an additional $6 billion to $10 billion at risk during high tides.
  • Under scenarios of three feet to six feet of sea-level rise, up to two-thirds of Southern California beaches may become completely eroded by 2100.
  • Three feet of sea-level rise combined with a 100-year storm could affect 15,000 jobs, $2 billion in property sales, and $2 billion in regional gross domestic product in San Diego County.
  • Four feet of higher water levels would expose key transportation and commerce infrastructure in the San Francisco Bay Area to flooding, and cause daily flooding for nearly 28,000 socially vulnerable residents in the region.
  • About five feet of sea-level rise combined with a 100-year storm could cause flooding at more than 330 facilities across California that contain hazardous materials.

This report is intended to help the Legislature and the public deepen their knowledge about the threats that California faces from sea-level rise. Developing a thorough understanding of the possible impacts associated with rising seas is an essential first step for the Legislature in determining how to prioritize efforts to help mitigate potential damage and disruption. Moreover, increasing public awareness about the coming risks and the need to address sea-level rise will be an important component in building support for and acceptance of the adaptation steps that should be undertaken.

This report is available using the following link: https://lao.ca.gov/Publications/Report/4261?utm_source=laowww&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=4261

This article was released by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office.

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