Bay Area experts on climate change have long been saying that sea-level rise between now and the year 2100 is a long-term serious threat to San Mateo County. Now the county's civil grand jury has chimed in with its own report saying that the county is not organized to deal with existing flooding problems much less sea-level rise, and that it needs to get organized -- now.
The initial steps should include educating the public, setting up a single agency to deal with the issue countywide, getting the attention and involvement of the 20 local governments in the county, and engaging in a coordinated advocacy campaign at the regional, state and federal levels.
If sea levels rise by the 55 inches predicted by 2100, and if nothing is done, salt water flooding could threaten the jobs of 110,000 people, the report says. Flood waters could inundate the homes of 120,000 residents, six waste-water treatments plants, one power plant, 72 miles of highway, 420 miles of roadway, 10 miles of railroad track, 75 percent of existing wetlands, and 78 hazardous materials sites regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, the report says.
The negative effect on tax revenues, while not known, would be severe, the report says.
In all, some $24 billion in infrastructure is threatened in San Mateo County, experts at the Pacific Institute said in a 2012 white paper for the California Energy Commission.
Severe flooding would be likely in Foster City and substantial parts of Redwood City and San Mateo, the grand jury says. Parts of East Palo Alto and Menlo Park would also be flooded.
Cities and towns should be amending their general plans to address sea-level rise, the report says.
Levees in the county have no coordinated oversight or funding sources, the report says. Adapting to higher seas may require more and better levees, buildings designed to cope with high water, restored wetlands, and even the abandonment of low-lying areas, the report says.
Because San Mateo County historically has had so much development of low-lying land, in the process destroying wetlands that could buffer flooding, the county represents 40 percent of the Bay Area's population and economic value that is vulnerable to flooding, according to the report.
The county and its local governments should organize an integrated approach to the problems of sea-level rise, thereby reducing overall costs. "By acting now to coordinate projects and funding sources, San Mateo County (and) the cities and local special districts will be preparing for the inevitable," the report says.
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