By Naama Raz Yaseef
It is hard to imagine, but still, this will happen: areas near the Bay will be drowned. With climate change and global warming, the sea is rising, and this means that parts of our shorelines will be lost, with devastating implications to assets on or near the shoreline. Ten years from now, areas in North Richmond will be flooded during large storms like the ones we recently experienced (and we will have more and more of those!) or during king tides. This also has broader implications for communities living farther away. For example, the West County Wastewater facility is expected to be flooded by the year 2050, making it impossible to service its approximately 100,000 customers in Contra Costa.
We often ignore problems if they’re far enough into the future because we have enough current problems, right? But actually, now is the best time to start working on this problem, before it becomes a disaster. Planning, funding, designing, and building effective solutions to sea-level rise are large schemes that need much time, especially if we want to get it right.
The North Richmond Shoreline project took shape from ideas generated through the Resilient by Design Challenge. Encouraged by Supervisor John Gioia, the project uses a state grant, Measure AA, to fund a planning effort that uses a collaborative, community-based approach to design a solution to sea-level rise for North Richmond. The project is managed by West County Wastewater along with urban designers and landscape architects from Mithun, environmental engineers from ESA, and us, The Watershed Project, leading community involvement.
The intention is to use solutions that are nature-based, meaning, they are inspired by the legacy of our natural environments and our local communities and designed to simultaneously help both. Traditional, vertical levees are fixed to a maximum water level and do not adapt to the natural ebb and flow. They need to be repaired from time to time, while nature-based horizontal levees often require less maintenance, as they are designed to work as a natural wetland.
Vertical levees create barriers while horizontal levees improve the accessibility and our enjoyment of the shoreline. They take care of people and the environment. During high water levels, the permeable soils and dense vegetation increase infiltration, reduce sea-level rise, and mitigate the impact of waves. During the dry season, partially treated wastewater can be discharged into the wetland, the wetland keeps treating the water and the water replenishes the plants.
The design of the North Richmond shoreline is intended not only to reduce the impact of sea-level rise but also to create opportunities for our communities. For example, this can include better access to trails, educational facilities, and maybe even a boardwalk lined with small restaurants. We dream big and aspire for an even farther-reaching impact, by including plans for improved housing, jobs, and education.
How to get involved
So what will our shoreline look like? The planning phase is starting in early 2022, and community members are called to take an active role and be part of the decision-making process. If this is something that interests you, come sit at the table and shape the form of the North Richmond Shoreline! We are looking for paid (up to $1,000) community members to take part in co-leading the envisioning of the shoreline design project, by working 1-2 hours weekly, between February and September (with a break in the summer months). To learn more, visit our webpage or attend a webinar on Monday, January 24th, 6-7 pm. To apply, fill out a short application form no later than January 31st, 2022. No experience is required– we welcome all members of the North Richmond community.
Also, in February, we will be holding four learning workshops on topics ranging from environmental activism in Richmond, investment in the community, the technical aspects of the project, climate change and sea level rise, and nature-based solutions. The timing and links to join these webinars will be posted on the website in early February.