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BackSeptember 2021

Sea Level Rise Affects All of State, Writes OPC Chief Mark Gold

Mark Gold, the director of the state's Ocean Protection Council, says sea level rise will impact al of California -- from Trancas to Tuolumne.

Over the last decade, climate change impacts have affected all Californians through record wildfires, extreme heat and drought conditions. The impacts of rising seas on our coast have been a lot more subtle. For an older person like me (58 in October), I remember my high school days as a Point Dume resident when Westward, Zuma and Broad Beach in Malibu were a lot wider than they are today. Thirty-one years ago, my wife Lisette and I were married on the beach in Trancas at the Malibu West Swim Club. The thought of sea level rise erasing these iconic beaches that provided such incredible personal memories is horrifying.

However, as the latest climate report (6th Assessment) from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated, the rate of sea level rise has doubled in just the last 15 years and this rate will increase in the years to come. So it is time to take the threat of sea level rise, especially in conjunction with King Tides and large storms, extremely seriously. Sea level rise impacts on coastal residents, ports, roads and highways, wastewater treatment plants, airports, and railroads could be in the hundreds of billions of dollars if the seas rise by three feet or more by the end of the century: an outcome that has a high likelihood. But buildings and infrastructure, although critical for our economy, can be replaced and/or protected for a price. However, many of the beaches, tidepools, and coastal wetlands that we grew up enjoying could be lost forever unless we start acting quickly. 

Achieving coastal resilience along California’s coast is one of the state’s biggest priorities. We’ve seen important sea level rise adaptation planning legislation passed by the legislature and funding for the Coastal Commission to work with local governments to make sure all of California’s coastal cities and counties are planning for sea level rise. We’ve seen a clarion call for action in the Legislative Analyst Office’s report on the risks of sea level rise to our coast, natural resources and economy. And we’ve seen the California Natural Resources Agency and CalEPA work with over 15 agencies to develop principles for aligned state action to make California’s coast resilient to sea level rise. Agencies including State Parks, the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, Ocean Protection Council, Coastal Conservancy, Coastal Commission, State Lands Commission, CalTrans and more have produced critical coastal resilience plans, studies and guidance documents during the Gov. Newsom administration. And this year’s climate budget includes $500M for coastal resilience projects and another $100M for ocean climate adaptation research, monitoring and projects to build climate resilience in our fisheries, marine habitats, and along our shores.

But state action is not enough to protect us from the slow-moving disaster of rising seas. California needs the public, local governments, businesses, environmental groups, tribes, communities entitled to environmental justice and more to partner with us in taking action to prevent major economic and natural place losses due to sea level rise.

We’re launching the "Ocean is Moving In” awareness campaign this fall with public service announcements and social media. This effort will be accompanied by a California Natural Resources Agency website that will highlight all the great work that is being done along our shores by state agencies, cities and counties, ports, non-profit groups and more to make our coast resilient to sea level rise. In addition, there will be recommendations and links to organizations where people can get involved to promote awareness and help develop local coastal adaptation plans.

If everyone does their part, we can limit the impacts of rising seas, and protect the shoreline that provides beauty, fun, prosperity and peace to so many. Thanks for your support.