NBC Bay Area investigation reveals how COVID crippled efforts to stop flood harm from sea degree rise.

COVID-19 has stopped or stalled a minimum of a dozen Bay Area tasks designed to stop harm from rising sea ranges. And specialists say time is operating out, as the newest NASA readings present exponential will increase in ocean and bay water ranges round the Bay Area.  

“We can’t afford to lose a week, a day, certainly not a year or two,” mentioned Warner Chabot, government director of the San Francisco Estuary Institute, certainly one of many Bay Area teams planning and pushing tasks to deal with rising sea ranges. 

“If we don’t start very soon, we’re going to be in a world of hurt,” mentioned Jack Liebster, Planning Manager for Marin County, as he appeared out over Stinson Beach.  

Listed by the National Park Service as certainly one of the greatest swimming seashores in Northern California, with beachfront property values in the hundreds of thousands, Stinson Beach can also be certainly one of the most susceptible places in the Bay Area to the unrelenting rise in sea ranges.


Over Labor Day weekend Marin County planners staked Stinson Beach with indicators displaying how the seashore might shrink with elevated erosion and completely greater water ranges. (Courtesy: Jack Liebster)

“This beach, Stinson Beach, will be, through a combination of drowning and erosion, it’ll be gone,” mentioned Liebster. In a sequence of indicators, planted on the seashore on a latest weekend, Liebster reveals simply how a lot of Stinson will likely be wolfed up by rising seas every decade. A Marin County vulnerability evaluation, known as C-SMART, warns flooding from rising seas might have a critical financial toll, impacting 1400 properties, 3,000 residents and several other million guests.


“This beach, Stinson Beach, will be through a combination of drowning and erosion – it’ll be gone,” mentioned Marin County Planner Jack Liebster. Data reveals the seashore will flood regularly over the coming a long time.

Liebster describes a plan to create a sequence of sand dunes that act as a sea wall, defending properties and buildings at Stinson, and at the identical time feeding the seashore with sand so it doesn’t erode away.  

That type of nature-based answer would require engineering, testing, and cash. Lots of cash.

But a $4.7 billion bond meant to assist threatened websites like Stinson Beach that had been proposed by Governor Gavin Newsom final January, was later pulled and tabled when the pandemic struck. “The bond was shelved, along with many other things, as a result of the COVID-19 recession,” mentioned Sara Lupien, Chief External Affairs Officer for Gov. Newsom, including, “There are no decisions yet about bonds of any kind in the Jan. 2021 budget.”

“This is going to be a huge challenge that is going to take resources at the local level, the regional level, the state level,” mentioned San Mateo Assemblymember Kevin Mullin. Mullin’s proposed invoice, AB2621, which might have protected necessary property like Highway 101, Caltrain, BART strains and native residential communities from flooding. The measure sailed by means of a number of committees in the legislature after which handed on the Assembly ground by a 63 to 12 vote on June 11. But as the COVID disaster continued, on Aug. 20 the invoice was tabled and held below submission in the Senate appropriations committee on account of a lack of funding. There the invoice died when the legislature adjourned for the 12 months. 

NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit spent the final 6 months reviewing and researching 119 totally different tasks meant to handle rising sea ranges and located many immediately or not directly affected by the COVID pandemic and its shutdown of typical day by day life and the economic system.

Along some 400 miles of Bay Area shoreline, The Investigative Unit discovered greater than a dozen tasks meant to gradual, cease or shield towards the rising tides – now both delayed or put on maintain due to the COVID disaster and its financial influence on the tax base each regionally and statewide.

Among the tasks slowed or stalled:

  • Exploring methods to stop frequent floods on Highway 1 in Marin by elevating the roadway and buildings, creating synthetic reefs and sea partitions.
  • Protecting a water therapy plant in San Rafael by changing an outdated levee with a new, environmentally pleasant one.  
  • The multi 12 months, multi million greenback, South Bay Salt Ponds restoration challenge – the largest tidal wetlands effort on the west coast, meant to soak up rising sea ranges.


Project managers of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration challenge defined that their work is basically funded by grants, which have their very own deadlines, so any delay can delay the funding of the challenge.

The multi-year, multi-million-dollar, South Bay Salt Ponds restoration challenge – the largest tidal wetlands effort on the west coast, meant to soak up rising sea ranges. According to officers, whereas some Salt Ponds planning work continues, most development related to restoration stalled on account of COVID.

“Cities and counties don’t have the capacity to be thinking about these challenges,” mentioned Rachel Ehlers, California’s Principal Fiscal and Policy Analyst, including that, “there are different competing priorities for time and a focus.  A report launched in Aug. 2020, by Ehler’s workplace reveals that a rise of six inches of water is a seemingly state of affairs in the Bay Area by 2030. That improve is predicated on sea degree measurements from the 12 months 2000.  

“Waiting too long to initiate adaptation efforts likely will make responding effectively more difficult and costly,” mentioned Ehlers’ report.

Experts say time is of essence for a lot of sea degree rise tasks. Scientists have plans to create pure reefs to decelerate the influence of rising seas and have began constructing and testing a few of these reefs off Pinole Point. But rising seas might make it not possible to determine the new boundaries if the challenge is delayed too lengthy.

Warner Chabot of the Estuary Institute estimates the financial downturn from COVID has already taken two years out of a important 10-year window to answer sea degree rise.   

“It terrifies me,” mentioned Chabot. “Not to have that funding is going to restrict us. It’s like putting handcuffs and tying our shoelaces together.”


Denise Roldan, sitting between her companion Bert and mom Ellen at the LeMar Trailer Park in Redwood City, mentioned everybody in the neighborhood panics every time the flood waters come. “People are scared, they don’t know what to do, so they panic,” she mentioned.

The LeMar trailer park sits in a giant cluster of low-income properties on a stretch of street between Highway 101 and San Francisco Bay in Redwood City. Residents right here say they fell like the canaries in the coal mine in relation to sea degree rise. They’re the ones first affected when the water comes.

“It’s always living on edge. You don’t know if you’re going to wake up and you’re flooded,” mentioned Denise Roldan, who lives right here along with her prolonged household.  Her mom, Ellen Rook, mentioned, “They can’t simply allow us to sit right here and you recognize, get blown away by the water.”

Though the space round LeMar and neighboring cellular house parks has flooded with heavy rains since the Nineteen Nineties, historic maps from the Federal Emergency Management Agency present the flood threat immediately from the bay now has elevated considerably with rising sea ranges.  


2019 FEMA National Flood hazard map of the space in Redwood City the place the LeMar Trailer Park and different cellular house parks are situated. Highway 101 cuts horizontally throughout the body, in the higher half of the map. While the 2012 historic map under would not align completely with the newest map, the 2019 map reveals flood waters reaching effectively past the 101 freeway.


“I’m most concerned with the displacement of residents on the bay … because they’re absolutely the most vulnerable individuals in the Bay Area,” mentioned Assemblymember Mullin.  

The newest information supplied by California’s legislative analyst’s workplace places the total cellular house park below a number of inches of water by 2030. That’s inside the subsequent 10 years. 

Just because it’s been knocked off the front pages by COVID … doesn’t mean that it’s not important,” mentioned Larry Goldzband, Executive Director of BCDC, the Bay Conservation and Development Commission. Water’s still coming.”  

The state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office does level to a silver lining that has been realized from this COVID disaster. “The pandemic has taught us that we can change the status quo very quickly,” mentioned Rachel Ehlers.

Stephen Stock, Robert Campos, Michael Horn, Mark Villarreal, Jeremy Carroll and Anthony Rutanashoodech – www.nbcbayarea.com

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