The Humboldt Bay area is experiencing the fastest rate of relative sea level rise on the West Coast. That's because tectonic activity is causing the ground beneath the bay is sinking at the same rate the ocean is rising. According to the California Ocean Protection Council's 2018 projections, sea level in the Humboldt Bay area is expected to rise above 2000 sea level as much as 1 foot by 2030, 2 feet by 2050, and 3 feet by 2060. In late 2021, scientists reported that Antarctica's Thwaites Glacier is likely to collapse within 5 to 10 years, which could result in an additional 2 to 10.8 feet in sea level rise. The primary impacts from sea level rise are increases in flooding and erosion. Sea level rise will expand the area vulnerable to flooding during major storms, as well as in the rare but catastrophic event of a major tsunami. The term 100-year flood is used as a standard for planning, insurance, and environmental analysis. But these extreme storms are happening with increasing frequency, in part due to rising seas. Sea level rise will cause more frequent—and more damaging—floods to those already at risk and will increase the size of the coastal floodplain, placing new areas at risk to flooding.To view sea level rise scenarios for the Humboldt Bay area, visit NOAA's 2022 Sea Level Rise Viewer and go to the local scenario for the North Spit.
City urged to consider environmental changes in future planning
On Tuesday, the Arcata City Council and the Arcata Planning Commission met jointly to hear about the risks sea level rise will bring to the city, and by extension the rest of Humboldt Bay.The appointed and elected bodies heard from local, state and federal sea level rise experts on how Humboldt Bay is expected to see three feet of sea level rise in the next 40 years, which will likely overrun the dikes and flood areas with key infrastructure such as U.S. Highway 101 and the city’s sewer treatment plant.“We really need to avoid putting any new things at risk in those areas. This was said before — sea level rise is not going to stop anytime soon,” Aldaron Laird, senior environmental planner at Greenway Partners, said. “It’s going to keep on going until we think we need to reduce what’s at risk and not put more development in areas that are vulnerable.”
There’s 37 tons of nuclear waste stored in concrete casks at Humboldt Bay and two Cal Poly researchers are encouraging the community to consider “potential futures” brought on by sea level rise.In a Feb. 23 webinar presentation sponsored by the Schatz Energy Research Center and Cal Poly Humboldt, the results of “focus group convenings” on how to deal with the waste from a former PG&E nuclear power plant were described.Jennifer Marlow, a Cal Poly assistant professor of environmental law, is the founder of the 44 Feet Project. The name of the community engagement and research effort refers to the nuclear waste site’s height above sea level.That’s a measure of concern because by 2065, sea level rise is predicted to rise enough – by 3.3. feet – to at times turn the site “into an island that will be increasingly vulnerable to wave erosion, sea level rise and saltwater intrusion,” according to 44 Feet’s website.Co-presenter Alexander Brown, a Cal Poly graduate research assistant and master’s candidate, said the PG&E nuclear waste storage site is the second smallest in the U.S. but is “classified as one of the most at-risk sites to climate change.”There isn’t another storage site available and Brown said relocation is “speculative at this point.”Meanwhile there’s “shoreline retreat” due to erosion. Brown compared a 1952 photo to one from last January showing how the shore slope at the site is “considerably smaller now.”
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The new year is a make-or-break moment for a Richmond housing development atop a contaminated former waterfront site once owned by the global pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.Plans for developing as many as 4,000 units on the site have survived scrutiny by officials and legal challenges from environmental groups; the Richmond City Council approved the development years ago.But last summer, state regulators asked the company to examine whether future sea level rise pushing up groundwater should alter the cleanup remedies for the hazardous site before development begins.“The science of sea level rise is progressing, we're listening to the community, and we're saying we want more evaluation,” Ian Utz, project manager for the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, or DTSC, told KQED. "We're going to follow where the science leads us. The sea level rise evaluation is not a one-and-done thing."Utz also tasked two independent researchers to analyze the company's site-wide sea level rise evaluation. AstraZeneca determined that by the year 2050, the site would incur no negative impacts.
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A coalition of advocates, academics and government officials are throwing their weight behind a regional strategy to address future sea level rise. They argue that, for the plan to work, state regulators spearheading the effort need new authority to implement it — a policy idea that many stakeholders agree is necessary, but that would require the equivalent of a political Hail Mary pass.At the moment, preparing for rising seas is mostly a free-for-all. Counties, cities and developers are coming up with plans separately and not all to the same level of protection, which has created a patchwork of inconsistent zoning and differing interpretations of state law.For the regional plan to succeed, San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) needs to treat front-line communities as climate experts, said Julio Garcia, a BCDC environmental justice adviser and director of the nonprofit Rise South City, which focuses on climate issues in South San Francisco.Will Travis, former executive director of BCDC, suggested the state create a different agency to enforce sea level rise adaptation across California.“For there to be any kind of a regional strategy for dealing with sea level rise, you can't just expect that local government by local government will do the right thing,” he said.Read More
The National Weather Service in Eureka issued a coastal flood warning on Thursday in anticipation of anomalous high tides that hit early Friday. While there were few issues caused by the flooding, the king tides offer a preview of what future sea level rise could mean for Eureka and the rest of Humboldt Bay.“This is about one foot higher than a typical high tide,” said Jennifer Kalt, director of the nonprofit Humboldt Baykeeper. “With one foot of sea level rise, what we saw today will be the average monthly high tide.”In fact, the astronomical tide event was even higher than expected as it reached a peak of 9.28 feet in the North Spit. But other fortunate weather factors helped mitigate any risk of damage from flooding.Only within the past decade are geologists realizing that the area around Humboldt Bay is sinking due to tectonic subsidence. The average sinking is at nearly the same rate that sea levels are rising, compounding the effect and doubling the relative sea level rise. In contrast, Crescent City appears to be on a tectonic uplift that would minimize the effects of rising sea levels. And for better and for worse, the science at the core if this issue is still fairly new; the theory of plate tectonics only came to be understood in the past 75 years.“A lot of this science is advancing,” said Kalt. “10 years ago, no one knew that the Humboldt Bay area was sinking so rapidly due to tectonic subsidence.”Read More