Eroding beaches and the seawater that laps onto the Embarcadero waterfront during high tide—not to mention severe storm flooding—were sending a clear message to a city surrounded by water on three sides.
San Francisco responded in September, when its Capital Planning Committee decreed that in all future construction projects, city and county agencies, including low-lying San Francisco International Airport, must acknowledge the rising sea level and come up with plans to adapt. The sea level around San Francisco rose nearly 8 inches during the last century, and it is projected to rise by as much as 55 additional inches by 2100.
In addition to trying to curb the carbon emissions that accelerate global warming, many state and local officials around the country have begun to address warming’s concrete effects, from rising seas to more extreme weather. In the face of resistance from climate change skeptics, their efforts are producing progress, from improved drainage and storm water systems to elevated infrastructure.
San Francisco’s decree is rooted in science-based assessment of the city’s vulnerabilities, said Debbie Raphael, director of the San Francisco’s Department of the Environment. “Our approach is not simply to build a wall and think the problem is solved, but to explore all options, including looking to nature for solutions, like wetlands.”
California has instructed all of its state agencies to prepare for a rise in sea level and other warming effects, and four regional groups work on projects across jurisdictions. The state has developed guidelines for transportation planners and coastal communities, and in September, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation creating a Sea Level Rise Database as a clearinghouse for adaptation strategies from across the state.
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