Ports & Terminals

California Ports hear sea level defense could cost SF Bay $110 bn

California ports heard a report that the cost of defending the San Francisco Bay from sea level rise could cost $110 billion while the City of San Francisco may need an additional $13 billion to defend itself.

Even more ominously Brian Garcia, Warning Coordination Meteorologist, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) noted that ice sheet losses in Antarctica and Greenland will add 13-14 feet to global sea level rise and is a certainty to occur. The only question is how soon.

The reports were presented at the Storms, Flooding & Sea Level Defense 2023 conference, a co-production of the Propeller Club of Northern California (PCNC) and the Society of American Military Engineers (SAME).

Rachael Hartofelis, Project Manager, Metropolitan Transportation Commission/ABAG and Dana Brechwald, Assistant Planning Director for Climate Adaptation at the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) discussed findings of the report: “Sea Level Rise Adaptation for S.F. Bay Area Could Cost $110 Billion.”

Warner Chabot, Executive Director, San Francisco Estuary Institute, urged developing a strategy to pay for the $110 billion. He also urged more nature-based shore protections, that should include nearshore reefs, beaches, tidal marshes, green stormwater infrastructure and more.

Chabot urged that regulatory upgrades include zoning:

  • Setbacks, buffers
  • Building code changes
  • Rebuilding restrictions
  • Conservation easements
  • Tax incentives
  • Geologic Hazard Districts
  • Buyouts

Brad Benson, Waterfront Resilience Program Director, Port of San Francisco confirmed a San Francisco Chronicle report that sea level defense could cost the City and County of San Francisco an additional $13 billion. Benson added: “One of the big challenges with building coastal flood defenses is how you're going to manage storm water … when we have a hundred-year storm event in San Francisco, the streets convey storm water to low points on the shoreline. When you raise the shoreline, you're trapping storm water. And so, we're working with our partners at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to model that storm water so that we can develop enough pumping capacity and storage capacity so that we're not making the problem worse as we're raising the shoreline.”

Kristi McKenney, Chief Operating Officer, Port of Oakland emphasized the importance of collaboration in addressing sea level issues.

Maria Conatser, President International Propeller Club (IPC) reported that since 2019 Mississippi River communities and commerce have been beset by flooding and high waters and currently lack of rainfall and low water is undermining barge operations and commerce.

Jim Carter, SAME Regional Vice President, California Region and Arvind Acharya President of the SAME San Francisco Post emphasized the importance of the organization’s national network of engineers and consultants supporting U.S. Army Corps of Engineers work designed to protect the nation’s rivers, bays, and coastlines.

Captain Taylor Q. Lam, Commander, Sector San Francisco, United States Coast Guard said the Coast Guard is investing more resources in addressing climate change issues so as to meet future disaster events.

Scott Humphrey, Executive Director San Francisco Marine Exchange discussed the pivotal role of his association of waterfront operators that keep ports in Northern California and elsewhere operational. He added that one of the goals of the SFSLD conference is to produce a Climate Resilience Center at the Marine Exchange to act as a clearinghouse for climate change events as well as an early warning system for the maritime industry.

California Ports Progress

Matthew Arms, Director Environmental Planning, Port of Long Beach was the conference keynote speaker and discussed the success of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in reducing emissions with goals for zero emissions. He also discussed the Port of Long Beach’s proposed Pier Wind offshore wind port. Green shipping corridor agreements between California ports and ports in Asia are designed to collaborate on reducing emissions by ocean ships but might also provide an avenue for U.S. ports and Asia/Pacific ports to discuss and collaborate on sea level defense issues.

Kristin Decas, Executive Director, Port of Hueneme discussed low-lying areas near Port infrastructure that will be impacted by sea level rise. She said that a Ventura County Coast Port “may be more susceptible to sea level rise due to (an) offshore submarine canyon.” With Port operational areas very close to the ocean, “inundation from large swells from the South are a potential risk. “The Port must adapt existing infrastructure according to “our inundation risk which will be determined through spatial GIS modeling ...” The Port will be investing heavily in new infrastructure installations in the next 10 years and “we will need to account for SLR (Sea Level Rise) in planning for this infrastructure.”

Kristine Zortman, Executive Director, Port of Redwood City said she hopes that dredging material generated as the Port’s ship channel maintenance dredging occurs can be diverted to nearby wetland areas: “So again, for 18 nautical miles from the mouth of San Francisco Bay … you have to take that mud and dispose of it, you take it all the way up to the head of the Bay and then you would have to take it another 50 miles offshore. And so, there is a value to that mud being able to be reused again in other areas of the Bay, to create intertidal habitat and build resiliency efforts for our neighbors.”

Justin Luedy, Senior Environmental Specialist, Port of Long Beach noted that Climate ‘stressors’ are already impacting the Port complex and the Southern California region and that “there is a greater frequency and magnitude of storms and greater number of hot weather days creating new demands on decision making for Port staff, tenants, and stakeholders as well as prioritization of resource allocations. There are power systems (and) resilience programs in place to support … marine terminals and there are projects underway to add renewable energy generation, energy storage, and power systems controls to enhance resilience at critical Port response facilities.” Lessons from the impact of Hurricane Marie in August 2014 which did “significant damage (to the Ports’) breakwater” causing “three large holes and multiple breeches “creates a threat from weather systems headed to the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach from the South.

Jan Novak, Associate Planner and Scientist, Environmental Programs and Planning, Port of Oakland said that the Oakland Alameda Adaptation Committee … coordinates San Leandro Bay/Oakland‐ Alameda Estuary flood and adaptation projects to protect and restore water quality, habitat, recreation and community resilience: “We can't just make the Port of Oakland more resilient because that would just push the impacts off to other areas. So, we have to work collaboratively. That's our mandate to work collaboratively for the benefit of all citizens of California … We will be releasing a sea level rise and groundwater intrusion study … in 2024.”

Paul Ruff, Pilot, San Francisco Bar Pilots said that large “new generation … (container) ships that are “coming in with … just a few feet of overhead clearance to get underneath the San Francisco Bay Bridge … These extremely high tides cause everybody sharpening their pencil to make sure that they can get the right numbers (of height clearance) so that nobody reads about us or hears about us in the news … which is always our goal. “

There is also a problem for ships at anchor: “With the predictive and projected weather and wind apps and tides and currents, we know that when the storms come through San Francisco … it's a southerly breeze. And when those southerly breezes come through … the tide, the current is coming in from the Bay, those opposing forces pitch the ship sideways.”

Stas Margaronis
Stas Margaronis


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