Orange County, California, Grappling with Sea Level Rise

This weekend, the alignment of the sun and moon are creating higher-than normal-king tides along the U.S. coastline. Activists and organizations in Orange County, California, are hosting events at several locations (listed in this article) to not only show the public what a king tide does to their shoreline but to make them aware that sea level rise is going to make what’s now considered a higher-than-normal tide the norm in the coming decades.

Sea level rise flooding is already threatening beaches, bluffs, railroad tracks, roadways, and real estate in California. The state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates in a December report that statewide up to $10 billion worth will be inundated by 2050.

The California Coastal Commission is considering a few options to hold back or divert the rising seas, including building seawalls (which can actually cause more rapid beach erosion), enhancing natural buffers, such as dunes and wetlands, and moving or demolishing structures on beaches so the ocean and beaches can follow their natural flow without flooding real estate and infrastructure. All of the solutions under consideration have costs and benefits. In some cases, residents are fighting the changes, claiming that their private property rights overrule the public interest.

The U.S. Geologic Survey predicts that sea level rise could devour up 67 percent of California’s beaches by 2100. The loss threatens to damage the state’s tourist economy and put even more bluff-top homes at risk of toppling into the sea.

Sean Bothwell, executive director of the California Coastkeeper Alliance told the Orange County Register, “Sea level projections have increased at an alarming rate — due to increased ocean temperature and faster rates of Antarctic sea melt — leaving California’s communities, roads and other infrastructure vulnerable to severe flooding and other risks without immediate action.”

Hopefully, public education projects, like the special king tide events being held in Orange County, will convince people that now’s the time to act.

FEMA’S Climate Change Denialism Endangers Coastal Real Estate Owners

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is responsible for responding to natural disasters and administering the Federal Flood Insurance Program, has become a major threat to coastal area real estate owners.

FEMA is notorious for using maps based on out of date data to set the flood zones that are used to determine both the level of risk faced by property owners and their flood insurance premiums. The maps are so bad the Department of Homeland Security said only 4-in-10 maps “adequately identified the level of flood risk” in 2017, according to this Bloomberg report. Despite more and more coastal properties being flooded by sea level rise, the agency doesn’t consider sea level rise or the king tides that make the flooding even more intense in the fall when it designates the flood zones.

FEMA’s climate change and sea level rise denialism was exposed yet again by its failure to include both terms in the agency’s National Preparedness Report released in December. Environmentalists say the agency’s inaction on climate change and sea level rise put the nation at risk.

“We can’t prepare the country — we can’t prepare communities — if we take this deliberately politicized route of excluding any mention of climate change,” Rachel Cleetus, a Union of Concerned Scientists’ climate expert told E&E News.

FEMA’s climate change and sea level rise denialism is in stark contrast to the position being taken by science-driven agencies. For example, NASA has webpages that warn about climate change fueling extreme weather events. And, in 2018, the National Climate Assessment, prepared by 300 experts guided by a 60 member federal advisory committee, concluded that climate change will continue to cause extreme weather that damages infrastructure, ecosystems and social systems.

FEMA’s inability to take climate change and sea level rise flooding seriously is further proof that buyers, sellers, owners, and real estate agents in coastal areas need to perform due diligence to protect their financial interests. They all need to go where the federal government — and many state and local governments won’t — and gather information on where flooding is occurring, what other areas it threatens, and how local governments plan to deal with it. They also need to know how sea level rise flooding will affect their tax rates and flood insurance premiums. “7 Sea Level Rise Real Estate Questions” can help them to gather the information they need to make informed decisions.

Sea Level Rise Flooding Victims in Norfolk, Virginia, Develop a King Tide App

Tired of sitting idle while sea level rise flooding inundated their neighborhood, an enterprising group of citizens in Norfolk, Virginia, decided to band together and develop a King Tide app. Dave Mayfield, a former environmental reporter, told CBS he was depressed from all the bad climate change news so he came up with the idea for the “Catch the King” app. Now hundreds of residents are measuring the timing and extent of king tide and sea level rise-driven flooding that emerges out of Callie Bay. Their data will help mappers to improve the accuracy of their tide and flooding forecasts.

The CBS report by Brooke Silva-Braga includes a quote from a new resident who didn’t know about the regular flooding of his yard until after he bought the property. He said it cost him $90,000 to raise his property. That, my friends, is why I wrote “7 Sea Level Rise Real Estate Questions.” The book tells folks buying in coastal areas — as well as sellers, owners, and real estate agents — what they need to know about sea level rise flooding BEFORE they decide how to proceed in a real estate transaction. Virginia, incidentally, is one of the states with the laxest seller disclosure requirement laws, which is also discussed at length in the book.

Sea Level Rise Forces Florida to Consider Another Foot in Elevation for New Coastal Real Estate Projects

In 2019, a Florida Building Commission subcommittee agreed with the findings of a Florida International University study that recommended that builders elevate new construction in coastal regions another foot to accommodate sea level rise. Craig Fugate, who served as the state’s director of emergency management and FEMA administrator during the Obama presidency, told the Miami Herald that in the face of climate change and hurricanes, “We cannot keep building the way we always have an expect a different outcome in future disasters.”

Every foot a structure is built over the base flood elevation can result in substantial savings in flood insurance premiums. Some developers, however, oppose the move because it can be costly. The next time the Florida Building Commission could change the code to require higher elevation for new building projects is 2023. Read more here.

Santa Barbara, CA, Officials Prepare to Release Sea Level Rise Battle Plan

Sea level rise is a threat along the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico coastlines. Officials in coastal communities are increasingly waking up to the threat of sea level rise-driven flooding and creating plans to combat it to protect real estate and their way of life.

Officials in Santa Barbara, CA, are putting finishing touches on a report due to be released next month that will include recommendations on how the city can mitigate sea level rise flooding damage. According to an article in The Log, a publication for California boating and fishing enthusiasts, the report will call for changes to the harbor breakwater, a program to more closely monitor the shoreline, and raising the city pier and marina facilities.

Without the modifications, experts predict sea level rise will claim the city’s sandy beaches by 2060 and the harbor will become unusable by 2100. Read more here.

Sea Level Rise Picks Up Pace in South Florida and the Keys

The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact is warning member governments from Palm Beach County to the Keys to start planning for 17 inches to 31 inches of sea level rise in the next four decades. The group released data at its annual meeting in Key West last month that increased sea level rise projections an additional 3 to 5 inches over previous forecasts.

Chronic sea level rise flooding already has Keys officials considering instituting a managed retreat, where the government buys out real estate and abandons roads. Many coastal governments are considering retreat as an option, especially in areas where maintaining infrastructure is considered too expensive for the number of residents served. The challenge if finding the money to purchase the distressed real estate and convincing owners who don’t want to sell. Read more in this Bloomberg Environment article.

NOAA Official Says It’s Time To Call It “Sea Level Rise Flooding”

An official with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told a Boston-area newspaper that it’s time to stop calling the chronic tidal flooding that’s plaguing coastal communities “king tides.” William Sweet, an oceanographer with the agency, told the Patriot Ledger that king tides — higher than normal tides that occur due to an alignment of the earth, sun and moon — have always been around, but they’ve only started to flood many locations in recent years. “We might as well call it what it is,” he told a reporter. “It’s sea level rise flooding.” The Patriot Ledger article by Jessica Trufant does an excellent job of explaining the sea level rise flooding problem and the threat it poses to coastal real estate.

Influential South Florida Newspaper Calls for Federal and State Leadership on Sea Level Rise

As South Florida and the Keys recover from a difficult season of king tide sea/ level rise flooding, the Sun Sentinel published an editorial earlier this month that listed the many challenges the region is already facing from flooding and the many ways federal and state leaders are failing to adequately address the problem.

Among the concerns are neighborhoods that were flooded for months during the fall because higher seas gave the floodwaters nowhere to drain, commercial flood insurance premiums jumping 18 percent a year in parts of the Keys that may put them completely out of business in five years, and threats to corals, birds and fish due to warmer ocean temperatures and acidification in a region that depends on the natural world for tourism.

The newspaper’s editors commended the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, which is comprised of South Florida and Keys county governments and governing bodies overseeing over 100 cities and two Native American tribes in the region, for demanding action now to take on the challenges posed by sea level rise flooding. They also commended Gov. Ron DeSantis for sending his chief resilience officer, Julia Nesheiwat, to the 11th annual climate summit held this fall in Key West, even if he had to cancel his appearance at the last minute due to “extenuating circumstances.” But they’re critical of Florida Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio for making zero effort to attend or send representatives to help them address the problems. (Maybe they’ll overcome their climate change denialism when more of South Florida real estate is inundated.)

What’s clear from the editorial and out every-day experience in the region is that South Florida and the Keys need strong federal and state leadership and financial assistance to address sea level rise flooding NOW. Ignoring the threat rising flood waters pose to our way of life won’t make them go away. We’re at the front line of the battle against sea level rise, but other coastal communities in the U.S. are starting to wake up to the same siren.

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