It's too late to stop climate change from causing significant sea-level rise, and the public should prepare for the seas to rise by at least 3 feet during this century. That's the message oceanographer and sea-level rise expert John Englander will deliver to Peninsula city officials at an upcoming conference in Foster City.
State Assemblyman Rich Gordon, U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier and San Mateo county Supervisor Dave Pine have encouraged elected officials, city managers, city planners and Department of Public Works directors to attend Friday's invitation-only conference, which will present findings from a series of conferences on adapting and responding to sea level rise.
Englander, author of the book "High Tide On Main Street: Rising Sea Level and the Coming Coastal Crisis," consults with businesses on how to protect their assets from rising seas, and recently presented a TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference talk on the subject. According to Englander, the best available data show that global sea levels would continue to rise for hundreds of years even if all carbon emissions were reduced to zero.
"This is now unstoppable," Englander noted. "There's a presumption that if we tackle the energy problem, maybe this issue will sort of fix itself. Sadly, that isn't true."
The public should not be dissuaded from working to reduce carbon emissions, but such efforts can merely slow, rather than prevent, the inevitable, destructive rise of the seas, the oceanographer said. San Mateo County's greatest vulnerability, according to Englander, comes from the fact that so many of its Bayside commercial and residential developments are built on landfill, at sea level.
Pine said he hopes the latest local conference will result in the formation of a working group to assess the county's vulnerabilities. As an example of hazards that need to be evaluated, Pine cited a conversation he had with officials from biotechnology corporation Genentech who said that if a storm-system pump near their South San Francisco campus were to fail during a major storm event, the resulting flood could temporarily halt their operations.
Another working group Pine hopes to see formed will be one that studies the possibility of creating a county flood control and financing district. He noted that Santa Clara County already has such an organization, and when San Mateo County has worked with Santa Clara County on joint projects, such as flood control and habitat restoration along the San Francisquito Creek, San Mateo County's lack of funding has presented challenges.
It's possible that new state and federal funding sources might be established to help cities better respond to sea-level rise, Pine said, and city officials in San Mateo County will be better positioned to apply for those funds if they've made prior preparations to address the issue.
Speier said Silicon Valley's tech giants are among the businesses that are likely to be affected, as San Mateo County is "ground zero" for sea level rise on the West Coast.
"We need to start preparing for higher tides, more damaging storms, and even inundation of our low-lying areas," Speier said. "That's why it is particularly important that we start a countywide planning process for the serious flooding that will likely occur."