Stories From The Field

Increasing Resilience in the San Francisco Bay Area

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Issue

The shoreline of the San Francisco Bay is a diverse mix of residential neighborhoods, urban waterfronts, recreational areas, industrial lands, and critical habitats that are connected by a network of freeways, railroads, power lines, and municipal infrastructure. The Bay is also home to socially vulnerable populations, over 100 cities and county jurisdictions, and an overlapping and complex regulatory environment. Future sea level rise and storm surge will put this all at risk of flooding, reducing ecosystem services, affecting hundreds of thousands of people, and inflicting billions of dollars of damage. These issues are compounded by governance challenges, historic inequity for vulnerable communities, and competing pressures for development and restoration.

Process

To address these regional issues, the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, along with NOAA and other partners, initiated the Adapting to Rising Tides (ART) project in 2010 in Alameda County. The project is a collaborative planning effort aimed at increasing local and regional preparedness and resilience while protecting critical ecosystems, infrastructure, and community services. Digital Coast resources helped project partners better understand the causes and components of sea level rise vulnerability and risk, develop adaptation actions to respond to those risks, and effectively build stakeholder capacity to engage in adaptation planning. For example, the ART project combined high-resolution topographic data with bay water-surface elevations to model inundation and sea level rise maps that allowed for a highly accurate analysis of what was at risk of flooding. These unique Bay Area maps are now available to partners and the public through the Bay Shoreline Flood Explorer. ART sea level rise maps included an assessment of hydrologic connectivity based on methods developed by the NOAA Office for Coastal Management, and the Bay Shoreline Flood Explorer website borrowed some of the intuitive user-interface elements of the NOAA Sea Level Rise Viewer.

Impact

The ART program has supported numerous local projects, launched new mapping data and tools, and helped foster a community of adaptation planners across the region. The Bay Conservation and Development Commission has expanded ART to all nine San Francisco Bay counties, which has brought the information, tools, resources and lessons learned in the project to the broader region. ART Bay Area is an effort to engage communities, conduct a regional vulnerability assessment, and recommend regional adaptation priorities for the region.

The ART program includes a portfolio of tools and resources to support local adaptation planning, a “help desk” where questions can be asked and answered, and staff engagement in a number of neighborhood-scale, asset-specific, and regional adaptation planning projects. This “help desk” has provided local planners with process, tools, and information that have supported numerous local projects across the region.

The NOAA Sea Level Rise Viewer is still being used to inform an understanding of sea level rise vulnerability and risk for communities in Southern Marin in partnership with Marin County—as well as focus on regional shoreline parks in partnership with the East Bay Regional Parks District, understand Bay Area housing and community risk in partnership with the Association of Bay Area Governments, and conduct a “hot spots” assessment of regional passenger rail in partnership with the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority. (2019)

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