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Coastal Concerns

The effects of sea level rise extend beyond beach neighborhoods to national security.

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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.  

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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? WE_bug_web

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  1. Why do we keep getting lectured about sea level rise and global warming when there is no evidence of either; and further, that prior studies supporting man-made global warming are at best, flawed and have proved to be unreliable? This has become political, not scientific.

    1. Hi Gus. My intention was certainly not to lecture, but to relate what’s happening in my community. And it seems that the US military has seen the effects of sea rise first-hand and acknowledges that it may affect the security of its outposts. All of this seems empirical to me, not political.

      1. Laura,
        Laura, thank you for this information in this forum and mention that all Dept. of Defense branches see sea level rise and climate change as a national and global security priority. In the near future a more logical discussion of facts and reality in political arena is hoped for.

  2. Laura————many of the coastal outfalls from wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) along the California coast relate to structures set close to the shore-line to enhance up gradient gravity flow. Carpinteria is just an example. These may be areas where WWTPs are located on seismically unstable land prone to liquefaction. This leverages the problem into another dimension. As we move deeper into drought prone times, the need increases for augmenting drinking water, and this can be supplied with recycled wastewater. This is being discussed for Carpinteria by augmenting its aquifers with injection of recycled water. That will see a pairing and interdependency of water systems into coherent process where the surrounding population is at increasing risk if parts fail.
    The sewer system will eventually need to be moved or a barrier against intruding sea will be needed. Neither will be cheap and the growing dependency of drinking water supplies on recycled water would see the demand for a coordinated approach to be a critically dependent issue.

  3. The issue may be political. My observation is that all reports supporting climate change (the name had to be changed from “global warming” because there was insufficient warming.) is funded by a government (political) entity. Those who was continued funding must support the desire of the government body that is funding their work.
    If it were scientific the scientific process would be used. The scientific process requires debate regarding the empirical data to determine if it supports or disproves the hypothesis. In the case of anthropogenic climate change politicians continually state “debate is over”. I don’t remember there ever being a debate. Politicians threaten to incarcerate anyone who disagrees with them. And then there is the statement that 90% of the scientist agree that human activity is a major cause of climate change. Political scientists vote. Scientists debate the empirical data. The computer models for climate that are funded by governments have been compared to observed data.
    Lets have the politicians stop the name calling and engage in a serious debate of empirical data.

  4. If sea levels are actually rising, the cause is a hotter sun, not the exhaust from my pick up truck. The problem stressed communities are (suppossedly) suffering are entirely self created. Structures and dwellings should not be built so close the ocean, or at least the owners should be responsible for their folly, not just whining about their predicament. Same thing goes for living in arid, desert regions. Sure, go live there, but dont start complaining when the water runs out. Weather, climate, sea levels, all change. The causes are irrelevant. You cant fight mother nature

  5. Laura
    thanks for sharing the planning and efforts of a relatively small community in addressing its future risks and considering their alternatives to address them. I will share this report with ASFPM leaders throughout the nation. Larry Larson

  6. Laura,

    Excellent piece. The multi-dimensional aspect of climate change/sea level rise is often lost in partisan bickering but was nicely reflected in your post with your references to community inundation, telecom vulnerability, property value loss, and the military’s hard-nosed response to what it sees as a real problem. Whatever the cause, the impacts of climate change/sea level rise will be better met if we begin planning for them now rather than reacting after the fact.

  7. Before the USA and other wealthy nations are effected places like the Maldives and Kiribati will be inundated.
    Humans are incredibly well enabled to adapt to changing conditions. As you have indicated in this article people from all strategic avenues are analyzing and making alternative plans. If you historically turn back the clock 100 years a few wealthy people owned cars and flight was in a Sopwith camel while the pilot dropped his bombs over the side of the canvas bi-plane by hand.
    In 100 years into the future the evolution of the car will have changed dramatically. The driver-less car will change the number of car trips necessary,traffic delays etc etc. If our technology revolution keeps advancing at the exponential rate it has been in the last 3 decades then I see pollution emissions dropping substantially in the next 50 years.
    Concurrently if we educate the world on population growth and the oceans will start to take of themselves.

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