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Climate Change

Coastal Readiness for Storms and Sea-level Rise

Sam Iacobellis, CNAP RISA Program, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego

Image courtesy of Sam Iacobellis, CNAP RISA Program, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego

Climate change has already caused 8 inches of sea-level rise at the San Francisco tidal gauge and scientists project an additional 3 to 5.5 feet or more of rising sea levels by 2100, within the lifetime of kids today.  These higher water levels amplify the flooding that occurs during El Nino periods and coastal storms.

Vision of Successful Adaptation

California has been taking action for over a decade now to change the way that we govern, in order to implement a vision of successful adaptation to sea-level rise and storms:

The coast of California in 2050 is a place that those who live here love and those who come to visit can’t wait to come back to.  It is a changing coast as the ocean rises and our coastal climate continues to warm.  But it is a place that also bustles with life: vibrant communities, with diverse people who make a good living in coastal towns and cities, in coastal agriculture and fishing, in flourishing industries and well-functioning sea ports that provide wealth to the entire state and the nation; tourists come for our coast’s wild and rich coastal and ocean environment and for the many unique species who share this area with us; local residents continue to have free and easy access to our beaches and water, and that water is clean for swimming, surfing, fishing and drinking.  In this way, it is how it has been for generations; countless people attracted to the shore by strong economies, gorgeous vistas, an incomparable environment, and communities with vibrant and diverse cultures. 

And yet something is markedly different along that coast of 2050, too: people are aware of and understand that the climate is changing.  They have shifted to clean energy sources, get around in bike- and walk-friendly communities to work and play by public transportation and non-polluting cars if they need wheels.   They have come to accept that the climatic stability of the past is no longer our current reality.  They have adopted a preparedness culture: governments plan ahead with longer foresight, quickly and efficiently respond to local crises; and households and businesses, too, do their part in being ready for storms and floods, for heat waves and droughts, for wildfires and health threats when they arise.  Life goes on, but we work together for the greater good: the coastal California and Bay Area we all love and want to pass on to our children.

OPC Adopted a Resolution on Implementation of the Safeguarding California Plan for Reducing Climate Risks: An Update to the 2009 Climate Adaptation Strategy.

At the August 27th OPC meeting, the Council unanimously adopted a resolution with a policy directive for state entities and non-state entities with projects using state funds or on state lands, to reduce climate risks to coastal and ocean resources.  The resolution also directed OPC staff to work on key recommendations in the Safeguarding California Plan, including working with the State Coastal Leadership Group on Sea-level Rise to develop a concise visionary action plan.

New Resources for Responding to Coastal Climate Change in California

Building on the growing momentum to address climate change impacts to coastal California, there are many funding, training and capacity-building events upcoming. These include the California Adaptation Forum, a free workshop on Sea-level Rise and Shoreline Change Planning Tools, 4th Climate Assessment Public Meetings, CivicSpark Climate Readiness Teams for Capacity-building for Local Governments in CA, the Kresge Foundation Initiative for Climate-Resilience for Low-income People, the State Coastal Conservancy Climate Ready Grant Program, and Local Technical Assistance Grants for Climate Change Impacts to Economic Development. Click here to learn more.

Local Coastal Program (LCP) grants – staff recommendations are being presented at the December OPC meeting.

Funding was available through two coordinated grant programs. Grants awards were approved by the Coastal Commission and the OPC at their November and December meetings respectively.

  • Ocean Protection Council (OPC) LCP Sea-level Rise Grant Program: $1.2 million available for work that supports LCP updates specifically to address sea-level rise, including sea-level rise modeling, vulnerability assessments, and adaptation planning and policy development.
  • Coastal Commission LCP Planning Assistance Grant Program: $1 million available for updating and certifying LCPs; may include updates to address impacts of climate change and sea-level rise.

The OPC, Coastal Commission, and State Coastal Conservancy worked together to manage these two separate grant programs.  To simplify the process for applicants, and streamline the review of the proposals, these two programs offered a joint application (application period closed on July 7, 2014).

For more information on the grant program, please contact:

  • OPC LCP Sea-level Rise Grant Program – Abe Doherty,
  • Coastal Commission LCP Planning Assistance Grant Program – Hilary Papendick, Statewide LCP Grant Coordinator, or (415) 904-5294

In addition, the OPC continues to engage in interagency coordination on climate change issues through the Coastal and Ocean Working Group of the California Climate Action Team (CO-CAT). On March 15, 2013 OPC staff presented an update to the State of California Sea-Level Rise Guidance Document. The purpose of the SLR Guidance is to help state agencies incorporate future sea-level rise impacts into planning decisions, and was recently updated to include the best current science, as summarized in the final report from the National Academy of Sciences, Sea-Level Rise for the Coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington.

The OPC is also an active member of  the Climate Change Action Coordination Team of the West Coast Governors’ Alliance (WCGA Climate Change ACT), a tri-state (CA, OR, WA) coordinating body that addresses various ocean issues.  All of these entities helped fund the aforementioned National Academies study on Sea-Level Rise and the West Coast.

The WCGA Climate Change ACT using support and funding by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has develop a searchable resource to identify funding opportunities pertaining to climate change including sea-level rise, coastal hazards, and other pertinent issues. The Ocean and Coastal Climate Change Funding Wizard is now live and available for a wide variety of stakeholders to utilize. The Funding Wizard allows users to filter using categories, show only new funding opportunities, and even save searches that are updated each time the site is visited. Please add any relevant grants to the catalog to help provide funding opportunities along the West Coast.

The West Coast Governors’ Alliance has also identified ocean acidification as a priority ocean and coastal health issue. A key first step to address this WCGA priority area is the convening of an ocean acidification and hypoxia panel. At its September 13, 2012 public meeting, the OPC formally charged the OPC Science Advisory  Team, under the leadership of the California Ocean Science Trust, with convening this panel. More about the West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Panel and the OPC’s involvement in this issue can be found on the Ocean Acidification page.

Further, the OPC has taken steps to fund key studies, assist with policy and guidance, and staff initiatives to address a wide-range of climate change-related topics, as listed below:

Guidance and Policy Resources


Funded Projects


Coordination and Collaboration


Related Links


Programs Page




Over-topping Embarcadero – Mike Filippoff for the CA King Tides Initiative


page last updated 4/24/13


OPC Staff Contacts:

Sea Level Rise & Adaptation - Abe Doherty (916) 653-0540,

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