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Of rising oceans, 200-year floods & the California double standard
rising ocean
A rendering of the Santa Cruz virtual reality simulation in which users can experience the progressive impact of sea level rise over time on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

The California Natural Resources Agency in 2009 and again in 2013 issued reports on existing and anticipated climate change impacts based on peer reviewed science.

Assessments from those reports have become part of the foundation as to why the California Legislature has established policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and therefore the projected impacts of climate change.

Those two reports note 85 percent of the state’s population resides in coastal counties. Of those 500,000 existing residents are in danger of being flooded by 2100.

That is based on the fact during the 20th century sea levels along the California coast have risen 8 inches. The projection on that data makes the assumption, based on peer reviewed science, that sea levels will rise 20 to 55 inches by 2100.

In doing so $100 billion in property as well as infrastructure such as railroad lines, freeways, roads, sewer treatment plants, schools, hospitals, parks and more will be flooded.

That is something California’s leadership in Sacramento is betting the bank on happening within 80 years.

Take a trip inland 50 or so miles as the drone flies.

The same state government after Hurricane Katrina, combined with the collapse of levees inundated New Orleans, issued an edict that basically applies to interior California water basins plundered to fuel coastal growth. In a nutshell,  roughly 40 areas including Manteca-Lathrop-Stockton that fall within peer reviewed science that establishes 200 year flood plains must have  — or be in the physical process of constructing — protection to guard against such an event by 2030.

If such areas fail to do so the state will ban all new construction including additions to existing  structures whether it is a room, adding on to a commercial building, or putting in place an outbuilding such as a barn.

Failure to comply would require anyone with a government insured mortgage to buy annual flood insurance that typically runs in excess of $2,000 a year.

To understand what this means part of areas inland California the state has deemed has a 1 in 200 chance of flooding in a given year are mandated to add protection to withstand such an event or else all building stops. Yet coastal California where the state has decided within 80 years there will be extensive flooding is mandated to do nothing.

It’s the old California double standard at work.

The coast is where the political power and wealth exists. They can escape playing by the same rules Sacramento imposes on the rest of the state that a cynical person might see as existing only to serve the needs of San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, et al whether it’s food, water, a depository for prevailing winds to send their air pollution, or to provide affordable housing for lower paid workers essential to propping up their local economies.

Do not misunderstand. This is not to imply mandating 200-year flood protection is wrong. What is wrong is for the stick being used to pursue Sacramento’s climate charge policy is by and large only used to beat inland  California into submission or make sure how they are implemented whether it is with water or greenhouse gas policy is always coastal centric.

And in doing so expensive solutions are advanced that have dubious impacts on the overall greenhouse gas outlook because they are only seen, and addressed from a Los Angeles-San Francisco perspective.

The two biggest unfolding public works boondoggles of the 21st century are Exhibit “A” and Exhibit “B” — the California High Speed Rail Project and the myopic Twin Tunnels that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s big rethink nod to environmental concerns was to repurpose from two smaller tunnels to one gigantic tunnel.

The high speed rail project was justified first and foremost as a mass transportation project with the secondary objective of reducing the most greenhouse gas as possible.

Assuming it is built by 2100 when Sacramento is convinced the water on California’s coastline will have risen another 55 inches, it will fall far short on both objectives.

That’s because it was conceived and executed as a Los Angeles-San Francisco centric endeavor.

An exceedingly larger number of vehicle trips would have been reduced if such an investment was directed at daily commute movements from Inland California (San Bernardino and Riverside counties) to the LA Basin and Bay Area to the Northern San Joaquin Valley and Sacramento than more occasional travel between LA and SF.

Peer reviewed science has established vehicles traveling at 55 mph to 70 mph burn fuel more efficiently and therefore cleaner than vehicles in stop and go commute traffic.

As for the Delta Bypass tunnel it is a solution to protect the Delta from saltwater intrusion climate change would cause and won’t create more off-stream storage or aquifer basin recharging to take advantage of wet years that are clearly the only effective way outside of conversation measures to increase the water supply.

It does nothing to address the question of levees that are not only aging but of which many were built with adjoining soil that experts have long since realized is far from being optimum in its effectiveness. What it does is protect the water supply for urbanized Southern California and large corporate farms in the southern San Joaquin Valley in drought years and from being used as part of court orders and state requirements for fish flows or protecting Delta water quality.

Los Angeles wants the same deal San Francisco got when Sacramento allowed them to build the original Delta tunnel in the form of the Hetch Hetchy pipeline that runs through Modesto to essentially divert water from the Delta that flows from the Tuolumne River watershed.

Had San Francisco taken Tuolumne River water after it had worked its way through the Delta as Southern California now does what it takes from the Sacramento River Basin they too would be pushing for a Delta tunnel that, at the end of the day, is simply an over glorified pipeline.

Imagine how much more effective water policy and climate change policy would be if Sacramento approaches both as if California consists of more than just Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Or how much better off we all would be if they stopped channeling Titanic sensibilities by treating coastal California as first class passengers and the relegating the rest of the state as steerage to pay the price of arrogant governance that ignores even parts of the iceberg that can clearly be seen.


This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at