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Coastal Flooding: When King Tides and Rain Storms Collide

John Robert Huetteman
All Voices
02/21/2011

The highest tides of the winter season, the king tides, will arrive in California along with rain, a powerful combination that could lead to coastal flooding, conflict and tragedy. The king tides occur twice a year when the Earth, sun and moon's gravitational forces align. The ocean is expected to surge as gravitational forces pull starting Wednesday and peak at its highest level on Thursday morning. If the surging waves meet ocean-bound runoff from the forecasted rains, there could be flooding.

Coastal communities of Orange County, San Diego and the San Francisco Bay Area are readying pumps and sandbags and preparing to seal tide valves to keep the high water at bay. Environmental groups plan to use the king tides to illustrate the potential impacts of rising sea levels.

In the north Orange County community of Sunset Beach at just a few feet above sea level, workers at Turcs bar are set to pile sandbags in front of their doors to keep the property dry. It's a precaution taken when high tides come with rain, an event that places excess pressure on the area's drainage system and sends sheets of water across the Pacific Coast Highway. "Come January and February, we kind of know to expect it," said Joy Monaghan, a bartender.

Environmental groups state that the twice-yearly phenomena or king tides offer a preview of California 's future as sea levels continually rise and puts the coastline at great risk of storm damage and flooding. As the ocean swells higher in the coming years, environmentalists expect that tides spilling over sea walls, flooding California's oceanside highways and splashing up toward homes and businesses will become regular occurrences.

King tides "provide us a glimpse of what might happen, and also give us an opportunity to think about how to adapt to the inevitable," said Liz Crosson, executive director of Santa Monica Baykeeper.

Baykeeper and environmental groups statewide plan to use the king-tide event to catalog the most vulnerable areas to coastal flooding and storm damage including: Sunset Beach, Newport Beach, Broad Beach, San Diego Bay and Crissy Field and Treasure Island in San Francisco. The public has been asked to submit photos of the effects of the king tides on beaches, roads, seaside parks and sea walls throughout the state by The California Coastkeeper Alliance.

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