Seven feet of sea level rise.

A clear and scary post on sea level rise, with explicit recommendations.  Sadly, the authors have some ridiculous east coast bias, and didn’t even talk about the Delta, instead talking about effects of sea level rise on states like “Mississippi” and “Florida” and “Vietnam”.  Whatever.  They list several take away lessons that I’ll apply to somewhere important, since they couldn’t be bothered.

Immediately prohibit the construction of high-rise buildings and major infrastructure in areas vulnerable to future sea level rise. Buildings placed in future hazardous zones should be small and movable — or disposable.

This isn’t about the Delta, but I’ve been enjoying watching the cliff crumble under this apartment building in SF.

Remember, y’all.  As sea level rises, we”re not just talking about overtopping and inundation.  We’re talking about more extreme tides, higher storm surges and more wave energy all the time.  You remember your pressure triangle behind dams, right? (Go down to pg 40 for the figures.)  And how the force exerted is a function of depth?   I’ll let you figure out what this means for Delta levees by yourself.

Relocation of buildings and infrastructure should be a guiding philosophy. Instead of making major repairs on infrastructure such as bridges, water supply, and sewer and drainage systems, when major maintenance is needed, go the extra mile and place them out of reach of the sea. In our view, no new sewer and water lines should be introduced to zones that will be adversely affected by sea level rise in the next 50 years.

This one is interesting because it makes me wonder at the Peripheral Canal route, and how the engineers are planning to handle this.  It also makes me remember Prof. Lund telling the Delta Vision panel not to spend any money on Through-Delta Conveyance.

Stop government assistance for oceanfront rebuilding. … Those who invest in vulnerable coastal areas need to assume responsibility for that decision. If you stay, you pay.

This is why I have no love for in-Delta residents.  I know they’re in a really hard place and that their way of life is at stake.  That sucks.  But the sea is going to reclaim a lot of the Delta (faster if the earthquake comes first), and I don’t want to throw a couple billion dollars into maintaining it as is before the Pacific takes it.  It would be one thing if they could do that with their own money, but they can’t.  The only thing I can imagine being stable against seas that are going to rise seven feet in a hundred years is some sort of estuarine marsh-type thing.

Get the Corps off the shore. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, more or less by default, is the government agency in charge of much of the planning and the funding for the nation’s response to sea level rise. It is an agency ill-suited to the job. Part of the problem is that the engineers’ “we can fix it” mentality is the wrong mindset for a sensible approach to responding to changing sea level.

What?  The Army Corps doesn’t do stuff on the coast.  It builds flood control dams and gives terrible advice about river levees.   Also, I don’t particularly appreciate this slander against engineers.  We fixed the LA River, didn’t we?

Local governments cannot be expected to take the lead. The problems created by sea level rise are international and national, not local, in scope. Local governments of coastal towns (understandably) follow the self-interests of coastal property owners and developers, so preservation of buildings and maintaining tax base is inevitably a very high priority. In addition, the resources needed to respond to sea level rise will be far beyond those available to local communities.

This is a big dilemma.  We’re big into collaborative solutions and giving everyone a voice.  But the stakes for in-Delta residents are incredibly high, and there’s only one thing they can say (do what it takes to maintain our way of life).  But committing the state to maintaining Delta islands requires fantastical amounts of money.  Their understandable self-interest is ruinous for the other 37.5 million people in the state, and can’t be done anyway.   Which is why I kinda don’t feel bad that Delta legislators have been edged out of water negotiations.   What could they add?  They’re representing their people admirably, but their people want an impossible thing.  (Sea, don’t rise!  Earthquake, don’t come!  Levees, be strong enough for either!  State, buy us new strong-enough levees!)

Delta legislators keep saying that they’re not being heard, that they’re being shut out, but my guess is that what they want has been heard and rejected, which is not the same.  I bet if those same legislators came bringing proposals of a managed retreat, to secure the best deal for getting the Delta clear in the next couple decades, they’d get heard plenty.  I don’t know what Delta legislators are negotiating; I am certainly not in the room with important people.  But there is no winning for in-Delta residents who want their world to stay the same, so we can’t make water policy depend on their satisfaction.  If they can’t be satisfied and they’re going to be obstructionist, the conversation has to move on without them.


Filed under Climate Change, Peripheral Canal

16 responses to “Seven feet of sea level rise.

  1. Seems like a pretty reasonable argument. One might infer from your piece that a tunnel is the best and perhaps the only rational option for getting water from north to south. That may be true.

    If so, the state better construct a fantasically expensive tunnel ($10B, give or take) capable of withstanding any earthquake that would too make a super-leveed Delta or a peripheral canal vulnerable. In retrospect, maybe this is why a peripheral canal makes sense. At least you can repair it if it cracks in half.

    Keep in mind that the Delta will not be “some sort of estuarine marsh-type thing” in other than geologic time scales given the degree of subsidence. It will be a shallow (20-30 foot, or 27-37 foot) brackish sea, with strings of eroding levees gradually disappearing.

    Is the shake of a head by Prof. Lund enough to doom an entire region? No doubt his eyes were downcast as he made his pronouncement.

    I’d like to see someone do the engineering analysis and radical redesign of the Delta landscape that shows that superlevees are as vulnerable as Lund assumes.

    Bring on the Dutch, since they clearly believe that a nation is capable of surviving this predicament. Unless I hadn’t heard that they have tried to buy a piece of Australia, like the Maldives government has.

  2. onthepublicrecord

    When I said “I wonder what this means for the Peripheral Canal route”, I was thinking exactly what you wrote in the first two paragraphs. Hmm, does this mean tunnel, for less intermixing? But how do you repair an underwater pipeline?

    Yeah, I saw that about it being a brackish sea. I was holding out hope for the rice studies. And unicorns, apparently.

    Of course someone’s headshake isn’t enough to doom a region. But weak levees, rising seas and earthquake are. Dr. Lund is (one of) the messenger, not the cause. Conflating those is a rhetorical tactic that draws attention away from the problems, which remain un-refuted.

    This is always true, by the way. It isn’t Sen. Steinberg or Dr. Mount or Gov. Schwarzenegger who is destroying the Delta. It is aging levees, rising seas and earthquake. People are the messengers, and if they never once mentioned it, the Delta would still collapse in a quake or flood, and the people who live there drown.

    If Dr. Lund has talked about superlevees, I haven’t seen it. To my knowledge, he thinks a lot of the western islands aren’t economically save-able.

    The Dutch have a very different set of incentives than California does. Everything they are is behind levees. If they spent 80% of their GDP on their levees, they would still come out ahead. That’s just not the case here. In California, the piece that Delta levees protect is a quaint niche remnant lifestyle for a few hundred thousand people. It is a genuinely beautiful place, but I think we’d have to be much richer than we are to afford to stabilize it as is.

    If we were talking about a major city, the balance would be different. In fact, that’s why I am for the Peripheral Canal. Because I think the major southern cities are at stake and I think they’re worth the $10B investment. In fact, you can tell that they are, because they’ve offered to pay that money.

  3. This is cute, and all too simplistic (ironically).

    I think the earthquake risk is too high for San Francisco, and building there contributes to putting people in harm’s way. Expecting us (from the Delta) to pay for their insurance, in light of crumbling cliffs (sea, don’t rise!) and earthquake chances (they are on the world’s most famous fault) is ridiculous. If they stay, they should pay.

    Instead, I propose that San Francisco (and Los Angeles) will have to go. It just can’t sit on such a dangerous place and expect us to pick up their tab.

    Also, the Cal. aqueduct is too close to an earthquake fault. Should it crack, it would endanger water deliveries to 25 million people. No, it should definitely go. Instead, I propose building a gigantic, rubber hose, held aloft by balloons, to travel to Arizona, where we’ve moved both S.F. and L.A., for there is no risk of earthquakes… that I know of. These cities need to be built on the peaks of mountaintops, so as to minimize their risk of flooding.

    It’s amazing that, when one’s community has ONE thing that the rest of the world wants, they will go to such lengths to get it, including drumming up all sorts of doomsday scenarios, all the while ignoring those same scenarios taking place in their own communities.

    There are simpler solutions than just saying, “oh, well, the Delta is going to go… so let’s just make sure that our interests, alone, are protected.” As a nation, we can be bigger than this.

  4. OTPR,
    Agreed that the Dutch situation is different. But many of the experiences and ways of thinking about strategies of surviving with a below sea level landscape are worth considering.

    Agreed also that messengers should not be confused with message. But messengers have their objectified and objectifying realities too, just as do message recipients.

    Agreed also that the bottom line is that when push comes to shove, Californians will prove to not care so much about smelt or the Delta’s unique landscape as they do about drinking water.

    Still, comparing the enormous expense involved in the three known options (canal, tunnel, through-Delta) might warrant a comprehensive engineering analysis, not summary dismissal. The PC will be enormously expensive, as will the tunnel and some superlevee scenario. And of course, all would be vulnerable, since floods and earthquakes will not go away.

  5. onthepublicrecord

    Definitely agreed on giving those options a comprehensive engineering analysis, which I think should also include an ‘ending-north/south-diversions’ option.

    On a separate note, can you disagree with putting the priority on drinking water? I consider myself a fairly strong environmentalist, and try to say out loud that we should have robust ecosystems and wildlife populations, because that’s the right thing to do. But if we’re forced to a choice, I have to choose drinking water. I’d be interested in an argument for a different choice.

    (I’ll be real unimpressed if that argument is plain tribalism.)

  6. Not being a member of the tribe I try to remain dispassionate, as I believe do you. Nor do I see an argument that trumps drinking water for 22 million people.

    Of course, 75% of the n/s diversion is for agriculture in the SJV, so my solutions are mitigative (which should be word if it isn’t) ones — developing toothy groundwater monitoring, water transfers (a very lucrative market for cheap water owners), and metering requirements. Then there’s Westlands…

    Anyway, back to Prof. Lund. OK, I was provoked by your characterization of his role in the Delta Vision process. But to be fair to him, he’s been at this for a while, and knows more about the issues than I do. Perhaps his role in abandoning the through-Delta conveyance option was marginal, or maybe he did advise or even recommend a public commission to do this. I don’t know this particular history, except that I know the TDC option was pursued with some purpose for a while by Cal-Fed.

    Dreams I have: A layperson’s analysis of risk and money of all three options, since no option is without lots of risk and money; The PPIC folks and their colleagues at Davis integrate diverse and meaningful human activity in their vision of the Delta’s future, and abandon the public greenwashing strategy.

  7. btw, on this:

    “Definitely agreed on giving those options a comprehensive engineering analysis, which I think should also include an ‘ending-north/south-diversions’ option.

    Having a hard time squaring the last point with your drinking water is non-negotiable principle. Just kidding, maybe? Sarcasm possibly?

  8. onthepublicrecord

    No, not sarcasm. I think it should be included because:

    1. A clear comparison, using the same metrics for all options, would be very handy. I have to think it would make what seems to be the very obvious case that we can’t end n/s diversions.

    2. I might be wrong and there are other ways to shift water around. Dedicate the Friant to SoCal cities? Is it big enough?

    3. Even though it would be extraordinary to end n/s diversions, I don’t want to take it off the table by default (“we never even considered ending n/s diversions”). I want that to be an explicit choice, presumably based on a comparative analysis.

  9. That sounds very reasonable, all of it. The problem of course is that the process that would produce such a comparative analysis is exactly what Cal-Fed, Delta Vision, co-equal goal legislation bills,. etc., were tasked with. This gets back to your original post, where you wrote that “[w]e’re big into collaborative solutions and giving everyone a voice.” My sense is that we are at the beginning of a new and more desparate era of decision making, one in which we have not yet figured out how to make decisions.

  10. onthepublicrecord

    I wrote this, before:

    Abundance (partly because the world was so rich back when we had all that timber and oil and big fish and groundwater and partly because there were so few people) used to be the rule, but I think we moved out of the Age of Abundance into the Age of Information back in the mid-seventies. That’s when we started writing plans. All those plans, those three-inch thick documents. Timber Harvest Plans. Habitat Conservation Plans. EIRs and EISs. Water Management Plans. Grazing Plans. Biological Opinions. People thought they were writing those plans for one project or another, but taken together, I think they were the entry fee into the Age of Information. They were the first pieces of infrastructure in this new era, just like rail lines and assembly lines were for the manufacturing age1.

    We only lived in the Information Era for about thirty years, and we didn’t even get good at it. We’re still figuring out things like how to use GIS all the time, and collect enough LIDAR data and give citizens easy access to rich information. We’re only barely starting to understand how to present it. On the whole, we’re could have used another fifty years to collect information and do things with it2. But climate change is now, and climate change forces us into the Age of Management. From here on out, the unmanaged default is going to suck.

    From now on, we have to manage things. A lot. Up and down the scale, we’re going to have to finesse the details. Individual people have to plan trips, find the shortest route and combine errands. Cities will have to count the greenhouse gas emissions of new development. Reservoir operators are going to have to plan water releases to the daily weather. We aren’t rich any more and we will have to pay fine-grained attention.

  11. quanticle

    Bring on the Dutch, since they clearly believe that a nation is capable of surviving this predicament.

    Even the Dutch are embracing managed retreat. They’ve recognized that it’s nigh impossible for them to defend all their levees. Therefore they’re saying that, in the future, only certain levees will be upgraded to meet future storm/sea level specifications. Other levees will be maintained as they are, but those living behind them can expect a greater chance of being innundated.

  12. Quanticle,

    I’m good where OTPR ended up on this thread – let’s put four alternatives to the test of an objective comparison. Get all the facts, financial implications, risks, etc. on the table, without prejudice.

    One might infer from your comments that you have concluded that the Delta is headed toward becoming a brackish sea, and that infrastructure investments for fresh water to the south should be spent on rerouting water around it. The Dutch are “embracing managed retreat” – OK, not a fan of the turn of phrase, but I get it. The Dutch have created a geography, infrastructure, and urbanism that requires them to make difficult spatial management choices. Makes sense.

    But what does that policy mean vis-a-vis the Delta in the context of California water policy?

    Will there be a buyout of Delta landowners, and if so, what are Californians/Americans willing to pay? And are Delta landowners interested in being bought out?

    Will the policy be do to nothing, leaving Delta landowners to their fate. Certainly, when and where they can, they will try to maintain their subsided land (and protecting levees) at the same time they are trying to compete in a global agricultural market. Maybe they will simply abandon their land as a canal or tunnel is built around it, degrading the quality of the water they presently access.

    The do-nothing policy is certainly the American Way – caveat emptor – except of course that it’s not, as the construction of and subsidy of water infrastructure and supply south of the Delta demonstrates.

    My guess is that the Dutch, having evolved to be a collectively compromising society that more or less understands just what an risky place they have forged into a country, pretty carefully calculate what ground must be ceded before they enact policy to do so. Is your view that Californians have found a similarly and collectively found a solution on their policy? I don’t think they have.

    But if you do, then be explicit. What combination of a physically and financially mitigated or unmitigated walking away from a region, conservation, fallowing, salt treatment infrastructure, water rights and transfers law, land takings and buyouts, development restraints, infrastructure development, etc., comprise this policy?

    Once again, I’d be OK with bringing on the Dutch and letting their neutral and inventive minds take a hard look at the predicament. Lock them in a nice room for a year, and give them access to the books and keep them away from environmental groups, agricultural lobbyists, water agencies and public policy lack-of-visionaries. Let them decide the fate of the Delta, Westlands, population growth, tunnels, canals, dams, all of it.

  13. onthepublicrecord

    Well, I can tell you a little about what the Dutch would do, since I sat in on a couple presentations by actual Dutch people.

    They didn’t sound inclined to sequester themselves. They talked a lot about buy-in and public participation. The neato thing they did was that they built a model of their rivers with all the possible flood control options built in, gave out a few thousand copies and told the public to tweak the model to get as much flood control as they wanted within a budget. Then people came back with their strategies and a much more realistic idea of how much flood control they could purchase. That sounded super cool, except that I don’t think we have buy-in for everyone agreeing on one model.

    Second, I am very sure that they perceived the value of Delta levees as providing conveyance for water to LA. They asked us two or three ways why that wasn’t in our cost-benefits analyses, because it was far and away the most valuable thing that Delta levees do. “If you counted the value of water to Los Angeles,” he said, “you could patch your levees with gold.” Given how pragmatic they were, I’m not sure the existing Delta would come out ahead in a Dutch look at the problem.

  14. My argument isn’t one for preserving the Delta, or seeing that the existing Delta, by which I assume you mean its landowners and its physical preservation, would somehow come out ahead. It is inevitable that physically the Delta will change, perhaps radically. I’m fine with that.

    On the other hand, I do have an argument. I don’t buy the principle that somehow it will be off-limits to live, work and play there in the future, and that the Delta is going to become an eden of “restored” habitat and organic farms, like the PPIC’s version of things to come.

    So, I am of the opinion that folks like Prof. Lund’s colleague Prof. Mount have an overly narrow conception of the future of the place. We should be more fully imagining how people in the future will occupy the Delta, and that this could help lead to some sort of buy-in.

    Like the idea of gold-patched levees, by the way. It is very Dutch, very big idea, if you follow their design culture at all.

  15. Jeff

    There are lots of options for SoCal drinking water, especially over the time horizons we are talking about. A lot of those urban users aren’t sure they are willing to pay the entire canal cost and mitigation either for what may only be marginally more reliable water (what if salmon don’t like those canal intakes, among other things that could go wrong).

    In the end, I think it comes down to southwest Valley ag., they are the marginal use.

    Yes, bring on more analysis! (at best, PPIC was just an initial, very rough pass at the issue).

  16. And the PPIC ideas are useful, too – if very rough.