By Kate Bradshaw Special to the Almanac
Picture this: the San Francisco International Airport is underwater. As many as 120,000 residents of San Mateo County have been displaced by flooding. Three-quarters of the Bay Area's wetlands have been rendered unviable. Roads, highways, and railroads are covered in water, which has been contaminated because wastewater treatment plants have been inundated and rendered obsolete.
If this sounds either too antediluvian or post-apocalyptic to be a realistic scenario, think again. Such a future could very well occur within this century if coordinated action is not taken to address imminent sea level rise, according to a San Mateo County grand jury report released in June.
San Mateo County is considered at significant risk from sea-level rise. A water level rise of 55 inches could cause an estimated $24 billion in damage to buildings and their contents, according to a study cited by the grand jury. Gradual sea level rise is expected to reach 65 inches by 2100, the report says.
The county and its cities should take coordinated action to address sea-level rise, the grand jury says. On Aug. 25, the Menlo Park City Council approved the city's response, which largely agreed with the grand jury findings.
While the city is working with the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority to address flood risks, the city agreed that rising sea levels are a countywide threat and that a countywide organization should lead the effort to combat that threat.
That organization could be an expanded San Mateo County Flood Control District or a new joint powers authority, the city says. The City/County Association of Governments should also be considered. That organization, the city says, should assess all flooding risks, not just sea level rise.
Mitigation measures in addition to building levees should be considered, the city's response says. Menlo Park, the city points out, is taking measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Also, in updating its general plan, the city is assessing the risks of sea level rise.
A primary concern, the city says, is the difficulty in coordinating plans across jurisdictions, which makes it hard to obtain state and federal funding for projects.