I’ve written about rising sea levels and the potential effects on infrastructure for a number of years now. But the gravity of this global issue resonated with particular poignance last week when my town released a landmark report outlining the effects of sea rise on our little seaside community.
The report, called the Coastal Vulnerability Assessment and Adaptation Project report, was produced in response to a 2017 California Coastal Commission study that identified specific areas of Carpinteria, CA, my hometown, that will be impacted. City administrators explain that the document will be used to enhance the resiliency of current infrastructure, while supporting future city planning efforts.
Some of our town’s residential areas were constructed on low-lying marshland. As a result, the community experiences regular tidal inundation events, which place increasing strain on local resources. By the year 2100, several of our coastal neighborhoods will likely be underwater. In the years to come, sea level rise will produce significant infrastructure challenges. Pump stations will need to be elevated. Treatment facilities will need to be relocated. Access routes may require reinforcement.
Among the threats to roads and water pipelines, the report also states that miles of digital communications infrastructure will be affected. This is an issue that has arisen in coastal cities around the country. In fact, a new study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Oregon has determined that, “Thousands of miles of buried fiber optic cable in densely populated coastal regions of the United States may soon be inundated by rising seas.” Long-term infrastructure planning and investment have never been more crucial.
Some of the strategies commonly used to address sea level rise include adding sand to bolster beach areas, constructing seawalls, building living shorelines such as offshore reefs, elevating structures, rebuilding at higher elevations, and managed retreat. These strategies are all under consideration today by state and municipal government agencies advising coastal communities throughout the US.
Many of these solutions will also be addressed by military leaders this week at a conference about sea level rise and security issues at The Citadel. According to Retired Marine Brig. Gen. Stephen Cheney, a conference presenter, encroaching oceans could potentially limit the ability to move troops or armaments, train for warfare, or even staff bases. Cheney explains that while partisans continue to debate the reasons for rising ocean levels, military personnel are seeing the effects firsthand. Therefore, at the conference, leaders will consider plans for seawalls, road reinforcement, and communications security.
Clearly the effects of sea level rise are not limited to coastal communities. With the fate of our nation’s infrastructure and security at risk, sea level rise is a reality that affects us all. How can we make our communities more resilient? What strategies does your municipality employ for mitigating the effects of rising oceans?