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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Obama Administration: SFO Could Be Underwater By Midcentury

Posted By on Wed, May 7, 2014 at 7:14 AM

  • Bay Conservation and Development Commission
  • Missed your boat

Chances are you know a climate change denier or two. Maybe you are one yourself. In which case, there's good news: you may not live long enough to see San Francisco International Airport sink beneath the Bay Waves and the water in the Sacramento/San Joaquin river Delta become so salty and warm that it kills off all the fish and crops.

The above scenarios are what we can look forward to as early as 2050, according to the National Climate Assessment, released by the Obama Administration yesterday morning.

Written by 240 scientists, business people and other fact-driven folks, this reality primer, released in Web-friendly format that's chock-full of links and charts and maps, is a heavy read indeed. The weather has changed. It is changing, and will change more no matter what we do.

But take heart: the Bay Area has it easier than most of the East Coast, which can look forward to even greater sea level rises and more Superstorm Sandys. We just need to build a new airport, and possibly a new Willie Brown Jr. Bay Bridge. Oh, and prepare for more droughts.

The report, which the president is supposed to deliver to Congress every four years, spells it out as plain as can be: human activity, mostly carbon emissions, have caused temperatures worldwide to increase by 1.3 to 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit in the last century, with most of the increase since 1970. Over the next few decades, temperatures are expected to rise again -- by "another 3 degrees F to 4 degrees F in most areas," according to the report. With the hotter temperatures come a host of other changes: ocean acidification, extreme weather, and -- in some parts of the country -- more rain. (Not in California; we're expected to get more droughts). Maybe the easiest fact to grok is sea-level change. Here, the Bay Area will have it easier than most of the eastern seaboard, which could see a sea-level rise of as much as two feet by 2050.
  • Climate Change Assessment Report, Coasts section
Under the current carbon-emission scenario, sea levels in the Bay Area could rise by as little as eight inches and as much as 16 inches by 2050, according to the report. The 16-inch, "worst case" scenario happens to be one that the local San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission examined a few years back. In it, there's lot a lot of air traffic coming in and out of San Francisco International Airport. There is, however, opportunity for boat traffic. Most of SFO -- well, the runways, anyway -- are flooded in a 16-inch sea-level rise.
Crissy Field, bits in the southeast near Lennar Corp.'s planned development near current-day Candlestick Park, and what appears to be a bit of the Bay Bridge are also flooded under the 16-inch rise scenario.
click to enlarge A bigger Bay
  • A bigger Bay
Parts of Treasure Island, Candlestick Point and Pier 30-32 -- places that officials are eager to develop for housing, retail -- anything on crumbling port piers are also slated to be wet. Sea-level rise may be the least of the Bay Area's worries. In fact, the real worry will be not enough water, as the drinking water supply is in deep trouble as well. Droughts are expected to become more frequent and worse in severity. Here in the Bay Area, we glean our drinking water mostly from rainfall. We don't have a major desalination plant converting salty seawater to usable drinking or irrigation water -- and, currently, we have no funded plans to build one. That means that the current drought -- yes, we're still in a drought, in case you'd forgotten and left the tap running -- could become business as usual. Much drinking and irrigation water is pulled from the Delta. In this scenario, the Delta is saltier and warmer. That puts fish, crops and people all in harm's way. To fix this, the Obama Administration has suggested a couple solutions, such as tougher regulations on fuel used in long-haul trucking. Efforts like these have been fought tooth and nail by politicians in California and elsewhere as job-killers. Nationally, Republican leaders spent more energy on beating the drum for their #Benghazi crusade than they did addressing the climate change report. It's often hard to figure out what to say to folks who continue to insist that nothing is afoot with the world's climate. At this point, and at least in the Bay Area, you can start with a spin on an old Spielberg classic: "you're gonna need a bigger boat" -- at the airport.
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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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