California state report urges action on sea level rise


Sea level off California could rise 6 feet or more by the end of the century, and submerge $8 billion to $10 billion worth of property by 2050, a report by the California State Legislative Analyst’s office warns.

The report, released Monday, details the hazards the state faces from sea level rise in coming decades, and urges local and state authorities to take action now, even though the pandemic currently claims first priority in public policy.

“While the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID‑19) pandemic and resulting economic impacts have rightly drawn the focus of the Legislature’s and public’s attention since March 2020, other statewide challenges continue to approach on the horizon,” the report stated. “Among these are the impending impacts of climate change, including the hazards that rising seas pose to California’s coast.”

With 3 to 6 feet of sea level rise, up to two-thirds of Southern California’s beaches could be completely eroded by 2100, the report states. In San Diego County, it states, that endangers rail lines, the port, airport and tourism industry, as rising water inundates infrastructure and erodes bluffs and beaches.

Research on the economic impacts of climate change in San Diego County found that 3 feet of sea level rise, combined with a 100-year storm, could harm 830 businesses and threaten 15,000 jobs and $2 billion in property sales. At 6 feet of sea level rise, a 100‑year storm could damage 2,600 businesses, and affect 49,000 jobs and $8 billion in sales.

Increasingly severe storms, exceptionally high “King Tides” and El Nino events could raise sea level even higher during certain periods, it concluded. And these scenarios don’t account for possible melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet; if that occurs, sea level could swell by 10 feet off California by 2100. The rising seas could damage both public infrastructure and private property, threaten human lives and natural resources, contaminate drinking and agricultural water, and expose raw sewage and toxic contaminants currently contained underground.

Although the pandemic poses an immediate threat, the report urges state lawmakers and local communities to start planning for sea level rise now to reduce the magnitude of problems later.

“The state and its coastal communities cannot afford to defer all preparation efforts until economic conditions have fully rebounded from the recent crisis,” it states. “The state and local governments can undertake some essential near‑term preparation activities—such as planning, establishing relationships and forums for regional coordination, and sharing information—with relatively minor upfront investments.”

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