How we will prepare for rising sea levels is just beginning to take shape here in the Humboldt Bay region. Humboldt Baykeeper assessed sea level rise vulnerability for contaminated sites near Humboldt Bay. More than 300 contaminated sites are within 10 meters of current sea level, including more than 40 that are below 2 meters – the amount sea level is currently projected to rise by the year 2100.

Although many of these contaminated sites are in various stages of remediation, including former leaky underground storage tank sites, there remain contaminated sites that mix not only with groundwater, but as sea level rises, with bay waters. Other sites have contaminated soils that will be submerged if left in place when sea levels surge upward.

With the highest rate of sea level rise in California—18.6 inches over the last century—and many populated low-lying areas, the Humboldt Bay region will need to adapt to these challenges sooner than other parts of the state. Contaminated soil and groundwater are not the only problems we need to consider—highways, sewer treatment plants, power lines, and drinking water supplies all need to be adapted as we plan for the inevitable and potentially catastrophic changes brought as sea level rises.