Are You in Harm’s Way? Rising Seas Increase Flood Risk in California

San Francisco Bay, the Delta and Southern California are most susceptible in the state

Sea level rise compounded with storm surges and high tides could raise the water level by four feet.

Tens of thousands of Californians will be placed at risk in the years to come as sea levels continue rising along the California coast. The official planning parameter for the San Francisco Bay Area acknowledges a potential 16-inch rise by 2050. But with help from high tides and storm surges, it’s not likely to stop there. A new tool from Climate Central maps out which cities, neighborhoods, and even streets, will be most affected.

The state’s Cal-Adapt site offers a similar tool but the East Coast-based science education group, Climate Central has added a new layer: population. According to Climate Central, which is a content partner with Climate Watch, there’s a one-in-six chance that under the right conditions — sea level rise, plus storm surge, plus high tides — the sea could rise four feet by 2030 in the Bay Area. That effects not just the coast, but also cities around the Bay and farther inland, in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The cities with the most people at risk are San Mateo, with 35,000 people living in areas that would be flooded under that scenario, and Stockton, with more than 72,000.

In Southern California, the threat is farther off, but by 2060, there’s a one-in-six chance of sea levels topping a four-foot increase with help from a storm surge. If that happens, more than 44,000 people in Huntington Beach would be in harm’s way, and 11,000 in LA.

Are You in Harm’s Way? Rising Seas Increase Flood Risk in California 14 March,2012Molly Samuel

2 thoughts on “Are You in Harm’s Way? Rising Seas Increase Flood Risk in California”

  1. The real issue for California deals with the effect of SLR on the Delta.  At some time, the pumps at Tracy will be sucking salt water for Los Angelenos.  Of course, even a goodly portion of Santa Clara Valley’s water comes from there as well.  We will have to spend money on this.  In the words of the old advertisement. You can pay me now or pay me later… and later will cost more.

    1. Wes, you’re absolutely right.  I recommend people read “The Flooded Earth, our future in a world without ice caps” by Peter D. Ward.  It’s a very informative book. 

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Molly Samuel

Molly Samuel joined KQED as an intern in 2007, and since then has worked here as a reporter, producer, director and blogger. Before becoming KQED Science’s Multimedia Producer, she was a producer for Climate Watch. Molly has also reported for NPR, KALW and High Country News, and has produced audio stories for The Encyclopedia of Life and the Oakland Museum of California. She was a fellow with the Middlebury Fellowships in Environmental Journalism and a journalist-in-residence at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center. Molly has a degree in Ancient Greek from Oberlin College and is a co-founder of the record label True Panther Sounds.

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