Summary of the Commission’s Climate Program
Over the past several months the Commission has been giving considerable attention to the issue of whether and how the Bay Plan should be amended to address climate change. This issue is important; however, it is only one element in the Commission’s multi-dimensional program to address climate change and sea level rise in the San Francisco Bay Area. This report provides an overview of the many initiatives in the Commission’s overall climate change program and achieves an objective in the Commission’s strategic plan dealing with climate change partnerships.
Background. The Commission has been studying the issue of climate change and planning for sea level rise (SLR) for over a quarter century. In 1989, the Commission adopted Bay Plan policies that require proposed projects in low-lying areas subject to flooding, including sea level rise, to either be set back from, built above or be able to be inundated by flood waters. More recently, in 2006, BCDC developed an outreach campaign based on maps of SLR to raise awareness of the issue in the Bay Area. These maps, based on topographic data, identified low-lying shoreline areas vulnerable to a one-meter sea level rise. In 2008, BCDC sponsored state legislation that gave BCDC the explicit authority to address climate change and sea level rise in its planning work and to collaborate with other regional agencies and interested parties in preparing a regional plan for climate change and sea level rise. The enactment of this legislation (AB 2094) also made BCDC a voting member of the regional agency Joint Policy Committee.
Over the past few months the Commission has devoted considerable attention to the issue of whether and how the Bay Plan should be amended to address climate change. The Bay Plan amendments comprise a key element in the Commission’s climate change program that includes many initiatives intended to build regional understanding and awareness of climate change; expand the region’s capacity to effectively adapt to climate change in a coordinated and collaborative manner; support scientific studies to improve our understanding of the uncertainties of climate change and the potential impacts on shoreline development and the Bay ecosystem; and to develop and implement policies to address climate change in coordination with regional partners and stakeholders, particularly to support development of a regional sustainable communities strategy, pursuant to the requirements of SB 375.
The Commission’s strategic plan includes an objective that states, “[b]y December 31, 2010, and biannually thereafter, the staff will report to the Commission on its success in securing funding for supporting and developing partnerships with other agencies and organizations to deal with climate change in the San Francisco Bay region.” This report outlines the many collaborative projects that the Commission is engaged in, and where appropriate, the additional grant funding that has been secured to support this work.
In 2008, BCDC prepared a vulnerability assessment, Living With A Rising Bay: Vulnerability And Adaptation In San Francisco Bay And On the Shoreline, that identifies: (1) key Bay systems, both in the natural and the built environment; (2) the stressors they presently face; (3) the potential impacts due to SLR and coastal flooding; (4) the sensitivity of the systems to these impacts; and (5) their adaptability. Integral to preparation of the assessment was research on sea level rise inundation in the Bay Area by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and an analysis of the socioeconomic impacts of that potential inundation by the Pacific Institute. The results show that approximately 180,000 acres of shoreline are vulnerable to flooding following a 16-inch rise in sea level, and more than 213,000 acres following a 55-inch rise in sea level, potentially flooding over a quarter-million of the Bay’s residents. The replacement value of the resources at risk is about $62 billion.
State Climate Adaptation Strategy
On November 14, 2008, Governor Schwarzenegger issued an Executive Order regarding sea level rise that requested the National Academy of Sciences to convene an independent panel to prepare a California Sea Level Rise Assessment Report that includes: “relative sea level rise projections specific to California, taking into account issues such as coastal erosion rates, tidal impacts, El Niño and La Niña events, storm surge and land subsidence rates” as well as addressing the range of uncertainty. The report is currently under preparation.
The order further directed that all state agencies should plan for sea level rise using a range of scenarios for 2050 and 2100, and that the Natural Resources Agency (CNRA) should take the lead in preparing a state adaptation strategy. The 2009 California Climate Adaptation Strategy (CAS) summarizes the best available science on climate change impacts across California in seven specific sectors and provides recommendations on how to manage against those threats. The staff of the Ocean Protection Council worked with staff from BCDC, the California Coastal Conservancy, Coastal Commission, Department of Fish and Game, State Lands Commission and State Parks to prepare the ocean and coastal resources section of the strategy. The state adaptation strategy was completed in December 2009.
The Strategy includes the following major policies regarding SLR:
- Consider project alternatives that avoid significant new development in areas that cannot be adequately protected (planning, permitting, development, and building) from flooding, wildfire and erosion due to climate change. The most risk-averse approach for minimizing the adverse effects of sea level rise and storm activities is to carefully consider new development within areas vulnerable to inundation and erosion. State agencies should generally not plan, develop, or build any new significant structure in a place where that structure will require significant protection from sea level rise, storm surges, or coastal erosion during the expected life of the structure. However, vulnerable shoreline areas containing existing development that have regionally significant economic, cultural, or social value may have to be protected, and in-fill development in these areas may be accommodated. State agencies should incorporate this policy into their decisions and other levels of government are also encouraged to do so.
- All state agencies responsible for the management and regulation of public health, infrastructure or habitat subject to significant climate change should prepare as appropriate agency-specific adaptation plans, guidance, or criteria by September 2010.
- To the extent required by CEQA Guidelines Section 15126.2, all significant state projects, including infrastructure projects, must consider the potential impacts of locating such projects in areas susceptible to hazards resulting from climate change. Section 15126.2 is currently being proposed for revision by CNRA to direct lead agencies to evaluate the impacts of locating development in areas susceptible to hazardous conditions, including hazards potentially exacerbated by climate change. Locating state projects in such areas may require additional guidance that in part depends on planning tools that the CAS recommendations call for.
- Using existing research the state should identify key California land and aquatic habitats that could change significantly during this century due to climate change. Based on this identification, the state should develop a plan for expanding existing protected areas or altering land and water management practices to minimize adverse effects from climate change induced phenomena.
- The most effective adaptation strategies relate to short and long-term decisions. Most of these decisions are the responsibility of local community planning entities. As a result, communities with General Plans and Local Coastal Plans should begin, when possible, to amend their plans to assess climate change impacts, identify areas most vulnerable to these impacts, and develop reasonable and rational risk reduction strategies using the CAS as guidance. Every effort will be made to provide tools, such as interactive climate impact maps, to assist in these efforts.
- A Climate Adaptation Advisory Panel (CAAP) was appointed to assess the greatest risks to California from Climate Change and recommend strategies to reduce those risks building on California’s Climate Adaptation Strategy. This Panel was convened by the California Natural Resources Agency, in coordination with the Governor’s Climate Action Team, to complete a report by December 2010.
Climate Change Policies in the San Francisco Bay Plan
To address the findings of the BCDC vulnerability assessment, in 2009 the Commission initiated an amendment of the San Francisco Bay Plan (Bay Plan) to address climate change. This revision is part of BCDC’s ongoing program to keep the Bay Plan current and based on the best scientific information. The draft policies would establish a new “climate change” section of the Bay Plan, and amend policies for safety of fills, public access, wetlands, and shoreline protection. Existing policies that broadly discourage building in low-lying areas would be modified to promote the type of development that is needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in areas suitable for development and encourage habitat protection and enhancement in areas with high natural habitat value. The Commission has held a series of public hearings and workshops, and staff has twice revised the proposed policies in light of public comments. The Commission is continuing to accept public comments and the staff will take direction from the Commission for further revisions to be considered at public hearings in early 2011 with a possible vote in April 2011.
Rising Tides Competition
In order to encourage new ideas about how to design and build around a rising Bay, the Commission sponsored an international design competition, in partnership with the American Institute of Architects, San Francisco Chapter, and with financial support from NOAA. The challenges to be addressed included: (1) rethinking how to build new communities in areas susceptible to future inundation; (2) retrofitting valuable public shoreline infrastructure; (3) protecting existing communities from flooding; (4) protecting wetlands; and (5) anticipating changing shoreline configurations. The environment to be addressed encompassed estuarine systems such as San Francisco Bay.
More than 130 entries were received from around the world. The six winning entries were chosen by an independent judging panel. However, many singular and innovative ideas were represented by the diverse range of entries. Moreover, the posters presenting the entries themselves became an important benefit from the competition. Thousands of people viewed them at the San Francisco Ferry Building. The posters offer positive designs focused on how to respond to sea level rise. The Commission has curated the posters as a traveling exhibit in various public spaces to raise awareness about SLR and the need to adapt.
To take advantage of the Netherland’s centuries of experience in protecting low-lying areas from flooding, BCDC entered into a unique partnership with the Dutch. Experts from the Netherlands worked with BCDC’s staff on adaptation planning, funded by the Dutch Government. The respective situations in the Netherlands and the Bay Area were compared and contrasted. Technical research regarding the impact of SLR on the Bay was performed using a numerical model. The analysis showed that tidal elevations due to SLR will largely be linear across the Bay, while tidal velocities and wave heights within the Bay will likely increase. The resultant impacts remain to be evaluated.
For adaptation planning, the team analyzed a range of shoreline typologies; identified potential adaptation measures; developed a decision-making matrix for their use; and identified differences in governance with respect to adaptation between the Netherlands and the Bay Area. A well-attended and well received symposium was held in San Francisco on September 21, 2009, to publicly present and discuss the results of the collaboration and to present a final report entitled: San Francisco Bay: Preparing for the next level.
BCDC’s partnership with the Dutch is continuing through BCDC’s participation in the Delta Alliance, an international organization with the mission of improving the resilience of the world’s deltas. The Delta Alliance has four networks where activities are focused: Indonesia, Vietnam, the Netherlands, and California where BCDC is the lead partner.
Joint Policy Committee
The Joint Policy Committee (JPC) is composed of representatives from the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), and BCDC. The JPC serves as a forum for coordinating policy initiatives among the four agency partners. Pursuant to AB 2094 of 2008, the Commission participation on the JPC has two goals in relation to climate change: reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the region and adapting to climate change. One of the key aspects of the JPC partnership is the FOCUS program, which is encouraging local governments to plan more compact, mixed use development near transit hubs, existing development and job centers, by providing incentives for Priority Development Areas and Priority Conservation Areas. The JPC also has committed to planning for adaptation to climate change. The provisions of the climate change Bay Plan amendments that address infill development in low-lying areas is a particular example of combining mitigation and adaptation to climate change.
Sustainable Communities Strategy
The Commission is a partner with the Joint Policy Committee agencies in the development of a sustainable communities strategy as required by SB 375. Although MTC and ABAG are taking the lead in formulating the SCS, BCDC staff serves on the ad hoc Committee, plan, attend and participate in the Regional Agencies Working Group meetings, and is working with agency partners to integrate adaptation considerations into the SCS, particularly for infill development areas that may be vulnerable in the future to sea level rise.
Local Government Adaptation Assistance Program
The Commission has taken a lead in developing an adaptation assistance program (AAP) to provide information and resources to Bay Area local and regional governments to assist them in planning for and adapting to the impacts of a changing climate. These outreach efforts primarily focus on addressing the needs of land use planning, public works, park and open space districts, flood control districts and wastewater authorities, as well as resource-based managers. The AAP is supported by the JPC through its Regional Agency Climate Protection Program.
The longterm goal of the AAP is to help San Francisco Bay Area communities achieve coordinated and regionwide adaptation to climate change impacts. The AAP contributes to this goal by building capacity within local governments to assess climate change issues, and to plan for and implement adaptation strategies.
BCDC has identified five broad program components for accomplishing these AAP objectives: (1) building partnerships that cut across jurisdictional boundaries, both geographic and sectoral; (2) public outreach to build community and institutional support for adaptation planning; (3) education to help planners and managers develop knowledge and skills for adaptation planning; (4) creation of a “one-stop shop” website and information clearinghouse; and (5) development and dissemination of strategies to improve the region’s resilience and adaptive capacity.
Over the past two years, AAP efforts have focused on the first three components, successfully facilitating inter-organizational coordination and partnerships that support and promote adaptation planning in the Bay Area. The Commission’s staff has held five workshops and a week-long training for local governments on adaptation. These educational events were held in partnership with ABAG, the San Francisco Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (SF Bay NERR), the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, NOAA Coastal Services Center, Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, ICLEI Institute for Local Governments and the Center for Ocean Solution at Stanford University. AAP partners will be prioritizing the next steps in program development based on feedback about outreach and education efforts, as well as available resources.
ART (Adapting to Rising Tides) Project
In order to field test vulnerability assessment and adaptation planning tools for the Bay region, BCDC will conduct a pilot project in a subregion of the Bay Area. The goal is to develop a template for integrative planning that addresses both the built and natural environment, and takes into account local conditions and interests, and supports local community adaptation planning.
The ART study will provide a far more fine-grained vulnerability assessment than BCDC’s Living With a Rising Bay and will be based, in part, on (1) the “Strategy Development Method” developed as part of the BCDC/Dutch collaboration and (2) the NOAA and USGS Community Planning model for addressing SLR. Based upon this analysis, adaptation strategies will be paired with the shoreline types identified in the project. The ART Project has been selected by ICLEI, an international association of local governments committed to sustainable development, to be part of ICLEI’s Inaugural Adaption Communities Program.
In order to address local conditions and encompass local interests, BCDC will work as part of the pilot with one of the constituent local communities within the proposed study area to engage local stakeholders in a community planning process, combining the planning analysis with locally based studies.
BCDC is partnering with and has a $140,000 grant from the NOAA Coastal Services Center to support the community workshops and for pre-project planning, and is applying for funds to conduct the pilot vulnerability assessment/adaptation study. Through this partnership BCDC will gain valuable knowledge for adaptation planning and will pursue the pilot with available resources.
The first workshop to introduce the ART project and invite communities to express their interest was held on October 22, 2010. BCDC and NOAA are currently determining which subregion and community will be chosen for the project. The Bay Area community that is selected will become one of the eight ICLEI Inaugural Adaptation Communities that will receive additional technical support and assistance.
MTC, BCDC, the other JPC agencies, Caltrans and NOAA, jointly obtained a $300,000 grant from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) for a pilot project to assess the vulnerability of a subregion of the Bay region’s transportation network. The pilot project will be conducted in the ART Project subregion and the information obtained will be a key component of the vulnerability assessment for the ART project. The project will field test a vulnerability assessment model developed by the FHWA, and represents a collaborative project that brings federal, state, local and regional partners together to address sea level rise adaptation. The grant requires a 100 percent match from the three partner agencies, so the project scope is $600,000. The funding enables BCDC, MTC and Caltrans to advance the goals of the ART Project, leveraging the initial funding provided by NOAA, and potentially attracting additional funding to the project.
Regional Climate Action Plan
The Commission’s primary climate change efforts have been focused on the impacts of sea level rise, but as noted in the California Climate Adaptation Strategy the Bay Area will also have to address other significant climate change impacts, including public health problems arising from more extremely hot days and poorer air quality; longer and more intense wildfire conditions; possible disruptions in fresh water supplies; and vastly different natural resource conditions. To better understand the region’s vulnerability to these possible impacts and to develop adaptation mechanisms for dealing with them, the Commission is working in partnership with ABAG to analyze climate impacts and identify potential adaptation responses that are specific to the Bay Area. Local academic experts are drafting this vulnerability analysis with the University of California at Berkeley as the project lead. Major funding is provided by the State of California through the California Energy Commission’s Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) Program. The results of the analysis will be provided to the JPC for use in the One Bay Area program that is providing information and guidance to local governments, business and other institutions and advice to the general public on steps that can be taken to reduce the impacts of climate change and to adapt to those impacts that cannot be avoided. This guidance can include the Commission’s advice to local governments on how to deal with the planning and regulation of development in areas vulnerable to flooding.
The Commission’s NOAA 309 grant will support integration of this work into the ART Project. The grant calls for BCDC staff to support the UC Berkeley impacts assessment team by convening a panel of technical experts in the subject areas researchers are studying, to ensure that regional perspectives are reflected in the work. In addition, a regional symposium would be convened on climate impacts, vulnerabilities and adaptation options and to mobilize regional interest in adaptation planning. The symposium will bring the results of the Bay Area Climate Impacts Report to decision makers and interested stakeholders in the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area. To directly support the ART Project, researchers from the UC Berkeley team and other area researchers will be invited to present their work in the ART subregion to better inform local participants of the likely impacts of climate change. The grant will also support the preparation of a community sea level rise impact assessment, an adaptation planning roadmap, and will support public participation by the local community segment of the ART Project subregion by funding the planning and implementation of community meetings.
Innovative Wetland Adaptation Strategies
The Innovative Wetland Adaptation Techniques in Lower Corte Madera Creek Watershed project is one of the first efforts along the San Francisco Bay shoreline examining how to reduce the vulnerability of tidal wetlands to sea level rise. The Commission obtained $600,000 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) as part of a San Francisco Estuary Partnership (SFEP) grant, in order to better understand (1) the flood control and wave attenuation benefits of tidal wetlands, (2) the vulnerability of tidal wetlands to sea level rise, and (3) potential strategies that will improve the resiliency of tidal wetlands to sea level rise so that the flood control and wave attenuation benefits are maintained. The study is being performed along the Corte Madera shoreline in Marin County by researchers from the USGS, University of San Francisco and private consultants, in partnership with the Marin County Flood Control District.
Last winter the USGS collected high-resolution topographical and bathymetric data for the Corte Madera shoreline, and deployed instrumentation to measure the attenuation of wave energy across the tidal wetlands. This fall, researchers will gather data on the erodibility of sediments in the tidal mudflat, will begin evaluating the short and long term vertical accretion of the tidal marsh, and will initiate a study to determine the local history and source of sediments in the marsh. Research results will help determine both the existing wave attenuation and flood protection benefits of the tidal wetland and the future of those benefits in light of sea level rise. Based on the data collected on the wave climate, geomorphology and sedimentation parameters, a conceptual adaptation strategy that includes a number of proposed management measures will be developed. Information regarding the existing and future wave attenuation and flood control benefits of the tidal wetland system will be provided to resource managers and local decision makers for use in their planning for sea level rise.
Regional Sediment Management
Bay sediment dynamics control many estuarine processes, such as locations of tidal flats and marshes, habitat variability, and the productivity of Bay waters. An understanding of sediment dynamics is important to predicting the impact of sea level rise and global climate change on the Bay. Sediments can feed tidal flats and wetlands to maintain their elevation in the tidal frame while minimizing erosion and inundation. Decreases in local or regional sediment supply can exacerbate erosion and inundation.
Regional sediment management (RSM) is an approach to manage sediments within the context of the entire system, including sediment sources, movement and sinks within the system and exchange with the ocean.
The Commission is collaborating with other Bay management and research agencies, organizations and interested parties to prepare a RSM strategy for the Bay. The RSM strategy will focus on identifying management and research priorities for the Bay. Partners include the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, the USEPA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Coastal Conservancy, San Francisco Estuary Institute (SFEI), USGS, and local Flood Protection agencies. The Commission received $175,000 from the federal Coastal Impact Assistance program (CIAP) for RSM work, and the California Coastal Sediment Management Workgroup, which is overseeing RSM plans for the rest of the California coast, is also funding $295,000 for RSM planning for the Bay. Much of the early focus of the strategy will be identifying research needs that are most directly related to Bay sediment management.
The first year of the project consists of
- identifying, gathering and cataloging existing data on sediment distribution and processes and
- working with researchers and Bay managers to identify data gaps and key management questions.
The second year will involve
- preparing a research agenda that is coordinated with other Bay management and research entities and
- completing a framework document that outlines a regional sediment management strategy for the Commission. As part of this initiative, USGS is currently measuring sediment flows to the Bay from several tributaries, using $580,000 funded through the LTMS program.
Head of Tide
Head of tide is the interface where freshwater flowing down tributaries meets tidal currents flooding upstream from the Bay. Many Bay cities were located where freshwater met navigable Bay waters. This is also a zone of high ecological importance. Sea level rise will shift head of tide upstream and increase flood risks. However, head of tide for Bay tributaries is not mapped and these risks have not been evaluated. The study will establish a protocol for determining the location of the zone within which head of tide is located and will involve work with local governments and special districts to gather existing information regarding their knowledge of head of tide. It will also develop a protocol to evaluate changes due to sea level rise.
Climate Ready Estuary Pilot
The USEPA’s Climate Ready Estuaries (CRE) program is working with the SFEP, the Commission and the USEPA’s Office of Research and Development’s Global Change Research Program on a pilot project to assess key vulnerabilities of the San Francisco estuary system to climate change. The assessment takes advantage of significant work that is already underway in the region, particularly on sea level rise, to support further analysis of climate drivers and ecosystem effects.
The project convened with a workshop of regional technical experts to identify and describe known stressors and potential climate change impacts on the Bay. The project then used an “expert elicitation,” which involves the synthesis of opinions of experts in a facilitated process, in order to address a subject where there is uncertainty due to insufficient technical information. This process was used to evaluate several key potential climate change impacts on the Bay. The CRE staff is preparing a report that describes the results of the analysis and the utility of the process to studying climate change impacts.
Bay Area Ecosystem Climate Change Consortium (BAECCC)
The Commission’s staff works as a member of a consortium of state and federal and non-governmental organizations to advance science and management relating to SLR and climate change impacts on Bay ecosystems.