By Juliana Gonzalez
Looking at the San Francisco Bay during the last 19 months of the pandemic has been a source of inspiration. We are privileged to be surrounded by water and a green belt around the Bay, at the heart of our community. We are grateful for all the Bay has given us in terms of open space and cool air, and that is why we need to get busy protecting our home from sea level rise.
In the back of my mind, I am always thinking about what the future holds for the Bay, my community and this place we call home. As I read the report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released this past August, I feel the need to express my concern and insist with urgency to policy makers and planners alike, that the time for action is now, and that we know with undeniable certainty that humans have changed the climate of the planet and that the consequences are coming our way in the next 10-20 years regardless of any action to reduce temperatures and emissions going forward. Some of the damage is already done. However, there is still hope to reduce the force of impact of climate change if we start taking bold action today.
We now know with 100% certainty that humans have set off an irreversible chain of events that will result in sea level rise and acidification of all oceans of the planet. We only have 10 years to prepare for the unavoidable 3 to 6 feet of increased sea level rise that we will face around the San Francisco Bay. This calls for meaningful action that will require unprecedented efforts to protect frontline communities that are most vulnerable to sea level rise and local flooding.
At the same time, as a global phenomenon will bring higher seas, it will also bring more extreme weather. In the near future, we should expect lower precipitation and longer droughts in the summer, and more intense rainfall events in the winter. But the overarching balance of all global circulation models shows a reduced annual precipitation for the Bay Area and the Sierras, which will put pressure on our water supply systems. If we get serious about emissions locally, and our global C02 emissions are reduced to the 1990 levels, we may be able to reduce the magnitude of the impact of climate change in our communities by keeping the temperature increase under 1.5 degrees Celsius. But to tell you the truth, this is a tall order, and we can not delay in our efforts to curb carbon emissions.
Under such dire predictions, what do we need to do?
Adapt. We need to get ready and start working on sea level rise adaptation for the incoming tide. We need to start building barriers and natural buffers to help us take some of the strength of the inevitable change coming our way. We need to rethink some of our infrastructure, install more green infrastructure, and most importantly, we need to build community resilience, so that during moments of crisis and natural disasters, we can help each other.
Reduce. At the same time, we need to reduce greenhouse gases to ensure the global temperature increase is under 1.5 degrees, and not the projected 4 degrees Celsius if we do nothing. We need to stop emitting greenhouse gases and we need to enhance natural carbon sinks by planting and protecting trees, salt marshes and seagrass beds, among other carbon sequestering ecosystems. As communities, we need to start our CO2 and methane diets, and need to work together to ensure we stay informed and support climate smart policies and new carbon free energy and transportation innovations.
None of this work will be easy, but we are starting to see some of our work on adaptation to sea level rise and flood prevention around the Bay come to light. Today we want to give kudos to two large scale projects that will bring climate adaptation and resilience to communities at risk of flooding in West Contra Costa County.
Kudos to the City of Richmond for its leadership in flood prevention in the Rollingwood neighborhood. During the last several years, reducing flooding around Rheem Creek has been a priority for West County, because this creek overflows its banks and floods the neighborhood almost every rainy season. For this reason, American Rivers, The City of Richmond, Restoration Design Group and The Watershed Project, started to work together and secured the funds for the 65% design and community engagement components of the project (Community-Based Ecological Solutions in the Rheem Creek Watershed), and most recently, the project partners, under the leadership of the City of Richmond, were awarded over $1.6 million from the California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA) to complete the design and implement the project. The hope is to go to construction in the summer of 2023 and be able to host a grand opening of the restored creek sometime in 2024. This will give the neighbors of Rheem Creek the opportunity to protect their homes during high intensity rainfall events and adapt in place to the new climate.
Kudos to West County Wastewater for their leadership in the North Richmond Shoreline Living Levee Project. During the last three years, San Francisco Estuary Partnership, West County Wastewater, The Watershed Project, and many other stakeholders have been advocating for the construction of a horizontal levee that could help protect not only this critical infrastructure from sea level rise, but also provide an additional buffer to the adjacent neighborhood of North Richmond. Today, we are happy to see the beginning of the process of design of this living levee, which was identified as a priority by the community of North Richmond. The designers chosen for the project are Mithun as the lead landscape architects, Environmental Science Associates (ESA) as the lead engineers, and The Watershed Project as the community engagement liaison. The 65% design is expected to be completed by next spring and by then the group expects to have secured the funding for implementation.
As we face the challenges of this decade, we will need many projects like these so that we can continue to inhabit the blue-green cities of the future San Francisco Bay.