San Mateo County coast most at risk in state to sea level rise

Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesAn unindentfied surfer competes in the semi-finals during the Mavericks Invitational surf competition on January 20

A regional or countywide flood protection district dedicated to sea-level disaster preparations should be assembled immediately, recommended a group of nearly 400 people who packed a College of San Mateo auditorium Monday.

The group assembled for a four-hour conference titled “Meeting the Challenge of Sea Level Rise in San Mateo County,” which was presented by U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, in conjunction with San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine and Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park. Experts from local, state and federal agencies — including representatives from the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Federal Emergency Management Agency and the California Coastal Conservancy — presented information that contributed to the overall consensus that the sea level is indeed rising and it’s not as important to determine when, but rather how, the region can protect itself.

With 240 square miles of filled land and 1,100 miles of state coastline, San Mateo County is considered among the most at risk in regards to flood vulnerability. Speakers highlighted the risk to the county’s shoreline assets and how detrimental it could be if a high tide swept over the region, taking with it one of the nation’s most thriving economic engines.

Gordon, whose state select committee on Sea Level Rise and the California Economy plans to issue a report at the end of January, said, “I have looked at the issues across the state and there is no region more impacted than the San Mateo County coastal zone.”

Oceanographer and keynote speaker John Englander, author of “High Tide on Main Street: Rising Sea Level and the Coming Coastal Crisis,” said the rise in sea level is inevitable and warned of looming climate changes such as extreme tides and severe storms. Englander said that regardless of what people do to decrease the effects of global warming, the efforts would not be enough to prevent what is foreseeable.

Englander suggested people learn to make adaptations and create strategies to combat catastrophe.

Will Travis, former executive director of the conservation and development commission and now a consultant who focuses on adaptation planning for sea-level increases, said that in order to meet the challenges of climate change, people need to more aggressively reduce greenhouse gases and manage the unavoidable by adjusting to the impacts.

Commission Executive Director Larry Goldzband suggested that California develop a statewide-integrated process that spurs the topic of jurisdiction. He said that an overall Bay Area strategy that incorporates all counties that border the Bay would benefit the entire region.

Goldzband discussed a collaborative planning effort his organization has begun called Adapting to Rising Tides. The pilot program’s goal is to increase the Bay Area’s preparedness and resilience to sea-level, tide and storm event flooding while protecting its infrastructure, ecosystems and services.

“The best way to get to a solution is to start working together,” Goldzband said.

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