Climate Concerns in San Francisco
San Francisco is one of the most populated cities in the United States, with a residency of over 875,000. The city sits right on the San Francisco Bay, making it a vulnerable area when it comes to climate change. The city of San Francisco is already beginning to see some of the effects of climate change, and faces many challenges in the upcoming years to protect the natural environment and mitigate issues like sea level rise before they cause serious damage to the city. The impacts of climate change will not just be environmental, the effects could damage the economy and change the way of life for San Francisco residents.
Let’s take a look at the biggest vulnerabilities of the San Francisco area and the current action plans for the city to be proactive and preventative in the face of a rapidly changing climate:
San Francisco Bay
The main source of vulnerability for the SF Bay area is the San Francisco Bay. The body of water serves an important role as a foundation of the city’s economy, but also poses the highest risks to San Francisco with current climate change predictions. Here are the most important areas of focus for the SF Bay in the coming years:
Sea Level Rise
One of the most anticipated impacts of climate change in the next century is sea level rise. Current estimates and projections predict up to 7 feet of sea level rise by 2100; this prediction has immense implications for coastal and low elevation areas. Sea level rise will cause more coastal flooding, beach and cliff erosion, and issues with groundwater levels and quality. At just four feet of sea level rise, the California State Legislative Analyst estimates over 100,000 lost jobs along with heavy relocation and evacuation, with almost 30,000 residents at risk of daily flooding. It would also put a large portion of the city’s infrastructure at serious flood risk: 59 miles of bridges and highways, 48 miles of freight rail lines, 11 acres of ferry terminals, 780 acres of seaports, and 4,760 acres of airports. Looking at current projections, this could occur within the next 50 years. At six feet of sea level rise, 30 wastewater treatment plants in the city will be at serious flood risk, which poses the danger of toxic sewage leaks that threaten the health of the surrounding community.
Rising sea levels not only threaten billions of dollars-worth of coastal property, but also have serious consequences on groundwater level and quality. As sea level rises, seawater intrusion into groundwater supply can occur, damaging groundwater and agricultural soil quality. This also causes groundwater levels to rise, which can lead to subsurface flooding and groundwater intrusion into sewage systems. These issues can cause immense damage to water quality and would require the development of water treatment systems and techniques.
With changing climate comes an alteration in weather patterns, namely: increased frequency of extreme weather events and shifting precipitation patterns.
Extreme weather events including droughts, floods, and storm surges cause thousands or even millions of dollars in damage to the city. A higher number of extreme weather events each year means higher repair and redevelopment costs to the San Francisco government unless preventative action is taken. Extreme weather can also destroy personal property, impacting the community as a whole. The city needs to adapt new stormwater management systems in order to prepare for this change.
Shifting precipitation patterns can cause reduced snowpack buildup and early melting of snowpack, drought, and flooding. These events threaten the stability of freshwater supply and distribution in the city, which is already a serious issue in the state of California.
Management and Prevention Plans
Environmental organizations in San Francisco have created a variety of protection plans for the SF Bay area that focus on the protection of marine environments and adaptations to rapid sea level rise.
Restoration of wetlands is one major action plan for the city, as wetlands act as carbon sinks that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it within the ecosystem. They also improve water quality, protect shoreline communities and infrastructure from flooding, expand habitat for wildlife, and provide residents with access to natural recreational areas.
Environmental organizations like Save the Bay also advocate for a reduction of freshwater diversion from the bay. Freshwater inflow improves water quality and makes the bay a healthier marine environment, protecting valuable salmon populations and marine biodiversity.
The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission proposed a policy that passed in 2011 with actionable plans and adaptations to sea level rise in the bay area. These plans include:
• Redevelopment and design solutions for coastal infrastructure
• Conservation of open spaces
• Managed retreat of erodible shorelines
• Development of new adaptive wastewater management systems to combat flooding
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