More on the Local Impacts of Sea Level Rise
By Shirley Dettloff

As I wrote in the fall issue of the Tern Tide, the City of Huntington Beach has done two studies on how sea level rise will affect our City. The report is currently being revised to include additional analysis required by the California Coastal Commission staff. I will continue to keep you posted with any new information which may impact Huntington Beach and the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.

Although many climate changes and its effects have been seen throughout the world, many continue to deny the facts which provide many examples of devastation. Throughout Europe unusual storms have produced major flooding, and here in the United States we have seen many effects of climate change. Tornadoes and hurricanes have increased in strength. Much of the Western U.S., including California, is witnessing a drought compounded by the effects of climate change. Unprecedented fires have destroyed thousands of Sequoias, and right here in Orange County, ocean waters are eroding cliffs and damaging a portion of the rail system between Los Angeles and San Diego. Scientists predict more unusual weather is on the horizon. Will we be prepared? Now the State Legislature is addressing this problem, and the Coastal Commission continues doing studies and urging coastal communities to prepare. We know Huntington Beach is addressing the issue.

The State Legislature recently passed SB 1, a bill which formally adds rising seas to the list of issues to be addressed by the California Coastal Commission. The Commission has been addressing sea level rise for some time, but now it has been added to the list of principal responsibilities listed in the Coastal Act. This means that any project coming before the Commission will be studied in relationship to how well the project will be protected against sea level rise. It has been signed by Governor Newsom. The Ocean Protection Council which provides sea-level rise projections for State agencies to plan by, has set a benchmark target to prepare for six feet of rise by 2050 and seven feet by 2100. Every dollar spent in pre-disaster preparation can avoid public and private economic losses. SB 1 not only directs the Coastal Commission to add sea level rise to issues that they must address, it creates a new entity to coordinate sea-adaption efforts, and provides a $100 million a year in grants for local and regional governments to prepare for sea level rise.

What does this mean to a community? It could mean projects being denied by the Commission, moving current homes inland, roads being rebuilt, sewage plants and water facilities being relocated and railways moved. The Coastal Commission has just released a 230-page report which meets the requirements that SB 1 put forth. This document urges cities to prepare for the Pacific Ocean to rise 10 feet by 2100. This has been criticized by some scientists who say these predictions go far beyond the calculations and who feel that the prospect of six feet of rise by 2100 will probably not happen. Several major entities have also opposed the Commissions calculation, such as the League of California Cities, the Orange County Transportation Authority and others including the City of Huntington Beach.

There are five other bills addressing this issue. SB 83 addresses homes threatened by rising sea. It establishes a program for the state to loan money to coastal cities to buy such properties from homeowners and rent them out as long as they are safe. The money would go back into the loan program. AB 66 would request a study from Scripps Institute of Oceanography to study cliff collapse and an early warning system. AB 63 by Cottie Petie-Norris, our Assembly Member, would allow marine restoration in marine protected areas, such as restoring kelp beds which can help to reduce ocean storm surges. AB 72, also by Cottie Petrie Norris, would streamline approval processes and other hurdles in relationship to decisions on sea level rise.

Regardless of how fast or how high the sea level rises, there is irrefutable evidence that our climate is changing. We must be prepared, and that is what the City of Huntington Beach is doing. Hopefully our properties will be protected, but we must look at scientific information and build our plan on facts and then determine what steps we must take to protect our coastal resources like the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve as well as our homes, critical facilities, businesses, and roads.