While the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis has properly been the focus of the California Legislature over the past nine months, there are many statewide challenges on the horizon.
One such challenge is sea level rise. A 2019 report by the Legislative Analyst’s Office concluded that the next decade is a critical time for California to act before more extreme – and expensive – solutions are needed as sea level rise impacts the California coast. This is why California Coastkeeper Alliance has partnered with Assemblywoman Petrie-Norris to introduce Assembly Bill 67 (AB 67), the Sea Level Rise Preparedness Act of 2021, to improve decision-making across state and local agencies, and ensure taxpayer dollars are not wasted on new infrastructure that could be underwater in the next half century.
If greenhouse gas emissions stay on their current course, California could see a foot increase by 2030, nearly 3-foot increase by 2050, and a 7-10-foot increase by 2100 along its coast. This might seem far way but given the 50-100+ year lifespan of most infrastructure and buildings, sea level rise is a very big deal and very real threat. Sites that might have seemed safe for 80 or 100 years might now only be stable for 40 or 50 years as the risk of coastal hazards and flooding increase over the next century.
Between $8 billion and $10 billion of existing property in California is projected to be underwater by 2050, with an additional $6 billion to $10 billion at risk during high tide. Coastal power plants and other types of major infrastructure (roads, rails, wastewater treatment plants, ports, and airports) are at risk of flooding. Studies have estimated that 3,500 miles of road in California will be at risk of flooding with 4.5 feet of sea level rise, but even small amounts of flooding already disrupt our roads and highways. Meanwhile, 28 wastewater treatment plants are at risk with 4.5 feet of sea level rise, and could result in raw, untreated sewage to spill into rivers and ocean.
State and local governments have done little to-date to comprehensively address the threat of sea level rise. State agencies continue to approve funds for new infrastructure that are in sea level rise inundation zones, and local governments are struggling to develop and implement strategies to successfully prepare for sea level rise.
Ultimately, delaying sea level rise adaption will result in lost opportunities to protect both our communities and vulnerable coastal ecosystems and beaches that need to migrate inland – otherwise, be lost to the ocean. And continuing to build in sea level rise inundation zones will only result in a waste of taxpayer dollars as infrastructure floods.
California needs to act now and prevent wasting limited state dollars on projects that will literally be underwater. AB 67 will do just that. Stay informed as AB 67 moves through the California Legislature by subscribing to CCKA’s monthly newsletter or become a member of CCKA to directly support our work for healthy waters and a resilient future for California.