San Diego County Benefits from Adaptation Strategy

The Takeaway: Fourteen adaptation planning initiatives are taking place in nine cities with the help of a NOAA grant and a local research reserve.

A NOAA Regional Coastal Resilience Grant helped launch the Resilient Coastlines Project of Greater San Diego. This partnership effort encompassing nine cities is putting into action fourteen adaptation planning initiatives. It is led by the San Diego Regional Climate Collaborative and designed with the help of the Climate Science Alliance-South Coast and Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve. Site-specific strategies are showing important results by leveraging living shorelines, sea level rise and erosion studies, economic assessments, and outreach.

The threat of worsening sea level rise looms over San Diego County, the nation’s seventeenth-largest metro area and one with a gross domestic product larger than 25 U.S. states, much of it in the ocean economy.

San Diego County’s adaptation strategy has made impressive gains:

  • City of San Diego and Port of San Diego officials are tackling common sea level rise concerns and adaptation options using expert science and data, courtesy of the project’s working group.
  • Many living shoreline and beach renourishment projects are underway, including at South Cardiff State Beach, where dune and habitat restoration will cut erosion and floods while boosting beach access with a new pedestrian path.
  • Living shoreline experts have spread their message and strategies outside the region via the Fourth California Climate Assessment committee and workshops in Los Angeles, Orange County, and Santa Barbara.
  • Solana Beach’s city manager says a 1.5-mile lidar beach and cliff survey is alerting officials to erosion threats and informing transportation and infrastructure plans.
  • Local officials are paying close attention to the Center for a Blue Economy’s analysis of how unaddressed sea level rise would likely impact San Diego County. For instance, if sea level rises one meter (3.3 feet) and a storm of “once-per-year” intensity occurs, 230 establishments and 7,600 employees in the county would feel the pain, and gross domestic product would dive by more than $1.1 billion. If sea level rises to two meters, impacts would multiply many times.
  • An Environmental Law Institute guide assesses legal risks of adaptation action versus a “do nothing” approach. Reading its findings, the City of Del Mar’s planner stated, “the choice of no action is the most costly option for our city moving forward.”
  • A NOAA economic framework for adaptation, piloted by Nexus Planning & Research in Carlsbad and Del Mar, revealed which of several strategies featured the best cost-to-benefit ratio for each community. Nearby communities are reading these case studies with an eye toward their own “cost-to-benefit” decisions.
  • Many youth and community events are spreading the adaptation message through science activities, storytelling, and art.

The adaptation need is urgent. A 2017 report in Scientific American says that the greater-than-expected melting of Greenland and Antartica ice sheets will hit California especially hard. The study notes that, “For every foot of global sea-level rise caused by the loss of ice on West Antarctica, sea-level will rise approximately 1.25 feet along the California coast.”

At stake is San Diego County’s $6.7 billion annual ocean economy, which in 2014 employed more than 103,000 people with wages totaling $3.3 billion, according to NOAA’s Economics: National Ocean Watch.

The Tijuana River research reserve brought together key players on the living shoreline plan. Academia, nonprofits, the private sector, and agencies at all scales were involved as part of the larger San Diego Regional Climate Collaborative. (2018)

More Information: Resilient Coastlines Project

Partners: California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California State Coastal Conservancy, Center for a Blue Economy, City of Carlsbad, City of Coronado, City of Chula Vista, City of Del Mar, City of Encinitas, City of Imperial Beach, City of Oceanside, City of San Diego, City of Solana Beach, Climate Science Alliance–South Coast, Coastal Frontiers, Environmental Law Institute, Environmental Science Associates, Moffat & Nichol, Nexus Planning, Revell Coastal, San Diego Association of Governments, San Diego County, San Diego International Airport Authority, San Diego Port Authority, San Diego Regional Climate Collaborative, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Tijuana River Research Reserve, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Navy, University of Southern California Sea Grant