Prop 68 Climate Resilience Miniseries Episode 11: Evaluating Sea Level Rise Adaptation Planning in Coastal California

(Intro to the series here)

“I hope we don’t fall into reactionary status quo.. but rather, take some bold steps in planning actions to try to adapt to sea-level rise in ways that might be a good bet.” – Charles Lester

Today we are talking with the University of California Santa Barbara project team leading a statewide evaluation of sea-level rise adaptation planning across California’s 76 coastal jurisdictions. One of the products of this work will be a user-friendly online inventory of adaptation planning occurring throughout the state. The Ocean Protection Council and the Office of Planning and Research are closely tracking the progress of this project and exploring opportunities to align and potentially merge the products from this work with the state’s Adaptation Clearinghouse.

Applying lessons learned from current and past action, the project team will develop recommendations for improving California’s coastal adaptation planning process, including the Local Coastal Plan policy update process. They will also assess alignment between local plans and the State’s Sea Level Rise Principles, released October 2020.

“I think of California’s coast as a laboratory of sorts, with all of these locations that are really diverse…if we can understand each of these places a little bit better, we might find little nuggets of wisdom about how to do a better job at making decisions,” says Dr. Charles Lester, the Principle Investigator on the project. This project will help California find ways to “plan for the long-term but take meaningful action today…and how do we take those actions today so as not to prejudice or ruin the future for our kids and our grandkids?” adds Lester.

California needs to move away from the “emergency-response” method that has dominated action around coastal resilience to flooding, erosion, storm surges, and sea-level rise and move towards thoughtful long-term planning with adaptation pathways and triggers that keep the ultimate goals developed by each local community in mind. 

By evaluating the effectiveness of particular adaptation strategies, this project will help inform future action that factors in a given locality’s values and priorities (e.g. protecting property, preserving sandy beach landscapes, maintaining coastal access and public safety). A huge part of this Prop 68 project is to see how local jurisdictions balance the inevitable tradeoffs associated with SLR planning and projects.

“We expect to find that there is no uniform process for SLR adaptation planning, some jurisdictions may be far along in the process of SLR planning while others may be just beginning to explore opportunities for SLR adaptation planning… and different jurisdictions and communities may have different preferred methods for adapting to SLR… some may accommodate for SLR, others might want to nourish their beaches and protect their shorelines more heavily, and some may want to retreat from the imposing threat altogether,” notes graduate student researcher Caitlin Manley.

To learn more about this project, check out this video!

Resources

Credits

  • Video Production, Editing, and Narration: Kat Beheshti
  • Drone footage: Charles Lester
  • Photos: Charles Lester
  • Video Thumbnail Photo: Charles Lester
  • Video Footage: Kat Beheshti, Charles Lester 

About Dr. Charles Lester: Charles is the Director of the Ocean and Coastal Policy Center within the Marine Science Institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is also the Principle Investigator on this Prop 68 Project. Prior to working at UC Santa Barbara, Charles served the State of California for 20 years as a manager, Deputy Director and ultimately the Executive Director of the  California Coastal Commission (2011-2016). He received his BA in Geochemistry from Columbia University, and his JD and PhD in Jurisprudence and Social Policy from the University of California, Berkeley.

About Caitlin Manley: Caitlin is a Graduate Student Researcher at the UCSB and a Master’s Student at the Bren SChool of environment science and management. Caitlin received her BS in Marine Biology and Biological Oceanography from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Prior to entering graduate school, Caitlin has worked for the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and Sea Center, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Parks Service.  

About the Author: Dr. Kathryn Beheshti is a 2021 California Sea Grant State Fellow with the Ocean Protection Council’s Climate Change Program. Kat’s own research focuses on understanding the drivers of loss and recovery of key coastal foundation species (e.g. salt marsh plants and seagrasses). Kat is committed to making science accessible to individuals of all ages and demographics. She hosts her own science communication platform, sloughit.com and participates in an interdisciplinary science communication team at SciAll.org, where she is a Lead Vlogger.

Prop 68 Climate Resilience Miniseries Episode 10: Developing a San Diego Regional Coastal Resilience Roadmap

(Intro to the series here)

“By working together to develop a shared understanding of the risks we face as well as to prioritize the actions we can take to address them, we can be better prepared for the challenges that lie ahead.” – Emily Young

Today we are in San Diego County talking with members of the project team leading the development of a coastal resilience roadmap that will facilitate accelerated action for coastal resilience projects and investments that prioritize benefits to underserved communities in the region.

This Prop 68 Project will build capacity for the region as a whole and design an equitable approach that is community-led, allowing individuals living in these impacted or at-risk areas to inform the future direction of how the area is managed. The Nonprofit Institute and the San Diego Regional Climate Collaborative are partnering with the Local Government Commission and Resilient Cities Catalyst to complete this work. This large collaboration exemplifies how inclusivity has been at the center of this roadmap process since its inception.   … read more

Announcing Our New Sea Level Rise Campaign to Shore Up California!

(SACRAMENTO, California) – The California Natural Resources Agency today launched the nation’s first statewide campaign to raise awareness about the urgent threat that sea level rise poses to coastal and inland communities.

Dubbed “The Ocean Is Moving In,” the campaign features humorous videos and posters of various sea creatures taking up residence in people’s homes with the goal of inspiring people to visit the state’s new sea level rise website. While the tone is light-hearted, the messaging underscores the very serious impacts sea level rise will have on quality of life unless Californians start actively preparing:

  • 60 percent of California beaches are highly vulnerable to sea level rise.
  • $150 billion in California property is threatened by severe flooding.
  • Salt-water intrusion could compromise groundwater and drinking supplies.
  • Transportation hubs like the Pacific Coast Highway and SFO could be immobilized.

… read more

Prop 68 Climate Resilience Miniseries Episode 8: BEACON Sediment Management Pilot Program

(Intro to the series here)

“I’m excited to shorten the distance between the science that we all support and the actual way that we apply it to our restoration projects” – Marc Beyeler

Today we are in Ventura, California visiting the Surfer’s Point Dune Restoration Site which is an exemplary case study of sediment management, restoration, and managed retreat. Adjacent to this dune restoration site is an area that has experienced extensive erosion with remnants of bike pathways, parking lots, and sewage plumbing from decades past now eroded, exposed, and part of the beach landscape. This stark contrast provided a nice visual representation of the problem (beach erosion) facing much of California’s coast juxtaposed to one of the many solutions (managed retreat).

The Beach Erosion Authority for Clean Oceans and Nourishment (BEACON) is a Joint Powers Authority whose members include the Counties of Santa Barbara and Ventura as well as the coastal cities of Santa Barbara, Goleta, Carpinteria, Ventura, Oxnard and Port Hueneme, covering 144 miles of coastline. BEACON seeks to keep important sediment within the coastal watershed that would otherwise be hauled to a disposal site. To increase coastal resilience to erosion and sea level rise impacts, BEACON works to plan and implement projects that include sediment management, beach nourishment, and beach and dune restoration. … read more

Prop 68 Climate Resilience Miniseries Episode 7: Planning Regional Coastal Resiliency for California State Parks

(Intro to the series here)

“This project provides an opportunity for all Californians to have a say in what the California coast of the future will look like.” – Michelle Succow

Today we are talking about a Prop 68 Project to develop a template for how coastal state parks should assess sea-level rise vulnerability and how to plan and adapt to site-specific impacts. The team at State Parks decided to pilot this work in the San Diego District, given the diversity of coastal habitats and land uses in the region.

California State Parks manages nearly 25 percent of the California coastline, with 128 coastal units. This presents an incredible opportunity for State Parks to lead the state in moving forward on sea-level rise planning and adaptation. “Coastal units in the State Park system are already experiencing impacts caused by severe erosion and flooding and we anticipate that those impacts are going to increase as sea levels rise and so having a consistent and statewide approach for how State Parks can assess those vulnerabilities, is really important,” notes Michelle Succow, one of the leading members of the Project Team. This project will establish that statewide approach to vulnerability assessments across State Park units and develop a roadmap for how the identified vulnerabilities can be addressed through planning and adaptive measures. Earlier this year, State Parks released their Sea Level Rise Adaptation Strategy and this project advances many of the goals identified in the Strategy. … read more

Prop 68 Climate Resilience Miniseries Episode 6: Elkhorn Slough Tidal Marsh Restoration Phase III

“Our hope is that this project will demonstrate we can undo past damage and that it’s worth it because you cannot have healthy humans without a healthy environment” – Monique Fountain

Today we are visiting Elkhorn Slough. Designated a “Wetland of International Importance” by the Ramsar Convention, the Slough supports a diversity of species, ranging from harbor seals to Dungeness crab. Of course, the Slough is known for the large resident population of southern sea otters that can be seen by the visiting public at close range swimming in the tidal creeks, foraging in the eelgrass meadows, and resting on the salt marsh where they frequently haul out. While these charismatic and fuzzy animals are effective at drawing in the public and fostering stewardship across the broader Monterey Bay community, equally as important are our coastal foundation species (salt marsh, eelgrass, oysters) which are responsible for building the emblematic ecosystems of the California coast. 

This Prop 68 Project will complete the last 30 acres of a 119-acre tidal marsh restoration project and includes the restoration of tidal marsh, eelgrass beds, and Olympia oysters. Reversing the degradation that Elkhorn Slough has experienced over the past 150 years, this project aims to re-build a coastal landscape that is resilient to sea-level rise. The Project Team includes multiple state agencies, academics, and the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band. “This is our chance to bring back some of those wild places in partnership with Native Americans so that these coastal habitats can once again provide the sort of values that they have in the past as a legacy for future generations” notes Dr. Kerstin Wasson, science lead on the project.  … read more

Prop 68 Climate Resilience Miniseries Episode 4: Bolinas Lagoon Wye Wetlands Resiliency Project

(Intro to the series here)

“Part of this is just the regular stewardship practice of taking care of the land together” – Max Korten

Today we are in the beautiful Bolinas Lagoon of Marin County, this tidal embayment is a Ramsar Site, recognized internationally for its ecological importance. Bolinas Lagoon supports many listed and endangered species including the California black rail, red-legged frog, steelhead trout, and coho salmon. This Prop 68 Project is to finalize the designs for the Bolinas Lagoon Wye Wetlands Resiliency Project. 

The primary goal of this project is to restore natural processes, reversing past land-uses (ranching, logging, mining) that left the wetlands vulnerable to sea level rise, by fragmenting and developing the area immediately surrounding the lagoon. The design includes removing a part of a road that currently separates the uplands and brackish marshes of the lagoon from neighboring freshwater wetlands and building a bridge to restore tidal flow to the area and removing a barrier to eventual marsh migration. The team has also incorporated plans to reroute a creek that is currently behind a water control structure, to its historical path allowing it to flow directly into the lagoon. They plan to allow the creek to self-form and evolve over time with minimal intervention beyond the initial channelization.

“For the community, their main connection to the rest of the world is this road, which already gets flooded during high tides and storms, one of the ancillary benefits of this project is that they have a more consistently safe and accessible access into and out of their community,” says Max Korten.

“This is a stepping stone, it’s the first step that we need to take to accommodate sea level rise and allow for wetlands to be able to migrate towards our uplands”, notes Veronica Pearson, the Lead Project Manager for this effort. Max Korten, Director of Marin County Parks is hopeful that this Prop 68 Project can help inform future adaptation efforts across the California coast, noting that sea level rise will present some difficult decisions for regions of the state that are heavily developed. “Bolinas Lagoon can serve as a model for the more challenging places in the state where there are harder trade-offs,” adds Korten.  … read more

Prop 68 Climate Resilience Miniseries Episode 3: Eelgrass Habitat Suitability Model Update for Targeted, Climate-Smart Eelgrass Restoration in San Francisco Bay

(Intro to the series here)

Today we are talking about a Prop 68 Project to develop an Eelgrass Habitat Suitability Model for San Francisco Bay–where many of California’s eelgrass enhancement and mitigation projects have been conducted. In order to successfully restore eelgrass, we need to first find the best locations to restore, which is not as easy as it may sound. 

The goal of this project is to update an Eelgrass Habitat Suitability Model (HSM) that was first developed by Merkel & Associates more than 10 years ago. Not only do we have much better data today than was available 10 years ago, we also know much more about the conditions that eelgrass needs to successfully establish and expand, post-restoration. This project takes advantage of the wealth of data now available and applies lessons learned from previous restoration projects and our improved understanding of how eelgrass may respond to climate impacts to develop an adaptive, climate-smart HSM. “We have learned a lot through our restoration efforts about what works and what doesn’t, but site selection remains a tricky problem, especially as we think about the future of eelgrass habitats as conditions shift with climate change”, states Dr. Katharyn Boyer, the lead academic on the project.  … read more

Prop 68 Climate Resilience Miniseries Episode 2: Quantifying the Social and Economic Benefits of Nature-Based Adaptation Solutions

(Intro to the series here)

“We’re getting input from flood managers and stakeholders in the region…that’s exciting because it makes me feel that people will make decisions based off what we’re finding from this project” – Rae Taylor Burns

Today we visited University of California, Santa Cruz’s Coastal Science Campus to talk with Professor. Michael W.  Beck, Co-PI on this Prop 68 project and Rae Taylor Burns, a PhD Student helping run the models for this effort aimed at measuring the social and economic benefits of nature-based adaptation solutions to protect San Mateo County from storms and sea-level rise. The primary goal of this project is to assess flood risk in San Francisco Bay and to identify the role of nature-based solutions in reducing those risks.

The project uses complex computational models for the SF Bay to evaluate current and future flood risk. By modeling  increases in sea-levels and storms, the team can assess the consequences of increased flooding to people and property, but also assess how ‘restored’ wetland habitats adjacent to development in low-lying areas can reduce flooding risk. Similar models are used to assess how management choices and other adaptation solutions can mitigate other climate impacts, such as wildfires, drought, and extreme heat.  

This team, led by Dr. Borja Reguero at UC Santa Cruz, will determine how effective nature-based solutions such as wetland restoration are at reducing the social and economic costs of flooding. “We need to adapt to sea level rise and storms, it is not a question of if, but when it will occur, we need to act now,” notes Dr. Reguero. Wetlands in the SF Bay shoreline represent a nature-based solution to the increasing challenges posed by climate change. The project will assess where and how nature-based solutions can protect San Mateo’s coastline, the interactions with the levee system, and revised ways to finance nature-based adaptation. When discussing the outcomes of this work, Beck notes that “it’s important to know that nature-based solutions are going to be just one part of the range of solutions for reducing [flooding] risks.” … read more

Announcing OPC’s new Climate Resilience Miniseries!

Episode 0 – Who is OPC? What is Prop 68, a brief primer on the Climate Resilience Miniseries

The Ocean Protection Council (OPC) was created by law in 2004 with the passing of the California Ocean Protection Act. OPC is a Cabinet-Level State Policy Body within the California Natural Resources Agency. The mission of OPC is to ensure that California maintains healthy, resilient, and productive ocean and coastal ecosystems for the benefit of current and future generations. To meet its mission, OPC  is tasked with developing science-based policy recommendations to decision-makers and coordinating with other ocean-related state agencies and partners to advance state efforts to protect ocean and coastal resources informed by the funding, collection, and sharing of scientific data. What does that mean in practice? Well, at the start of this year (2021), OPC funded 15 coastal resilience projects using funds allocated to OPC through Proposition 68. These “Prop 68 Projects” – as we will call them throughout this mini-series – were chosen in large part for their alignment with OPC’s mission, and specifically our Strategic Plan. 

So, what is Proposition 68? Well if you voted in California’s midterm election in 2018, you probably saw this proposition on the ballot. Proposition 68 was first drafted by Senator De Leon as a senate bill to enact the California Drought, Water, Parks, Climate, Coastal Protection, and Outdoor Access for All Act of 2018 – but we know it as Prop 68, a proposition that voters passed, issuing $4B in bonds to be allocated to projects around conservation, water, and parks.

Thirty-five million of that $4B was allocated to OPC to use for grants for projects that ‘conserve, protect, and restore marine wildlife and healthy ocean and coastal ecosystems with a focus on the state’s system of marine protected areas and sustainable fisheries’ and $21.2 million was allocated to OPC to fund projects that ‘assist coastal communities, including those reliant on commercial fisheries, with adaptation to climate change, address ocean acidification, sea level rise, or habitat restoration and protection, including, but not limited to, the protection of coastal habitat associated with the Pacific Flyway.’ Our miniseries will focus on this last chunk of projects, those that were funded under Chapter 10 of Prop 68 – Climate Preparedness, Habitat Resiliency, Resource Enhancement, and Innovation. … read more