SAN FRANCISCO—The California Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) published a report analyzing the looming impacts of climate change and sea‑level rise (SLR) to California including the San Francisco Bay Area region on August 10.

California has been facing the imminent impacts of climate change and rising seas. In a report by LAO, scientific estimates suggest the magnitude of sea‑level rise (SLR) in California could reach at least half of one foot in 2030, and in addition to that, storm surges including “king tides” or El Niño events could produce even higher sea levels in combination with SLR.

Impacts of SLR will be both extensive and expensive, as it could increase flooding along California shores, erode beaches and cliffs, and also raise coastal groundwater levels. It could have a bad influence on public infrastructure, private property, vulnerable communities, natural resources, drinking and agricultural water supplies, toxic contamination, and economic disruption, said LAO. Below is the summary of the impact on each category:

  • Public infrastructure—Assets including water treatment plants, roads and highways and railways could be impacted by both flooding from waves or rising groundwater levels, as well as damage from cliff erosion.
  • Private property—”Houses and businesses located along the coast face the threat of increased flooding, and those in cliff‑side locations face damage from eroding bluffs.”
  • Vulnerable communities—”Those who will be impacted severely include renters (who are less able to prepare their residences for flood events), individuals not proficient in English (who may not be able to access critical information about potential SLR impacts), residents with no vehicle (who may find it more difficult to evacuate), and residents with lower incomes (who have fewer resources upon which to rely to prepare for, respond to, and recover from flood events).”
  • Natural resources—Flooding can flood coastal beaches, dunes, and wetlands, which threatens to impair or eliminate important habitats for animals including fish, plants, mammals, and birds. Rising sea levels will also cause salt water to enter coastal estuaries, which will degrade the place where fish and wildlife need freshwater.
  • Drinking and agricultural water supplies— SLR may cause salty sea water to contaminate certain fresh groundwater supplies, and also could impair one of the state’s key water conveyance systems, which depends on the integrity of the levees in the Sacramento‑San Joaquin Delta to move water from the northern to the central and southern parts of the state successfully.
  • Toxic contamination—SLR “could also threaten public health by exposing coastal residents to toxic contamination.”
  • Economic disruption—SLR could have negative impacts on the economy and tax base, as economic activity would be reduced by flooding infrastructure such as docks, surrounding roadways, or adjacent railways through which goods are distributed.

As a conclusion, LAO states that “understanding of the possible impacts associated with rising seas is an essential first step for the Legislature in determining how to prioritize efforts to help mitigate potential damage and disruption.”