When people who own real estate in coastal communities consider the threat posed by sea level rise flooding, they often focus only on their own structures and land. That can be a costly mistake.
The fact is sea level rise flooding outside their property lines can impact their property value, financial future and quality of life. How? For example, nearby roads that flood can keep owners from reaching their property. Wastewater systems that are infiltrated by seawater can become ineffective or even inoperable, which can result in sinks and showers that don’t drain and toilets that don’t flush. And taxes can go up when cities and towns are forced to raise seawalls and other critical infrastructure.
A Civil Grand Jury in Humboldt County in Northern California is busy drafting an assessment that lists the many ways sea level rise will impact coastal communities there. In a report titled “The Sea Also Rises”, the Grand Jury warns that the county, which includes Arcata and Eureka, is at risk from flooding due to the double-whammy of sea level rise and natural land subsidence.
The list of problems the Grand Jury says will be created as seawater inundates more and more land includes the following:
- Communities around Humboldt Bay will experience more frequent flooding.
- Highway 101 and the only access road to King Salmon could be cut off by floodwater.
- The local energy system could be disrupted as flooding impacts a PG&E generating station, municipal water transmission lines, electrical transmission towers, and transmission poles.
- An interim spent nuclear fuel site could be damaged.
- Commercial properties, including three cargo and commercial docks, could be flooded.
- Environmentally contaminated sites in the Arcata and Fairhaven could be compromised.
The Grand Jury isn’t only forecasting future problems, it’s taking stock of problems that exist today. For example, the report says property values in the Fairhaven/Finntown area are already suffering because very high tides are causing septic systems and leaching fields to fail — which is a problem in many coastal areas experiencing sea level rise flooding.
In its draft summary, the Grand Jury is calling on all elected officials to make sea level rise flooding a priority. “The County of Humboldt; the cities of Arcata and Eureka; and the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation, and Conservation District should formally state their immediate and continuous support for, and commitment to, SLR (sea level rise) mitigation and adaptation efforts,” it wrote.
Cities and towns all along the US coastline are taking stock of the threats posed to residential and commercial real estate, public lands, and critical infrastructure. A few years ago, an environmental consultant estimated that the mid-sized South Florida city I live in needs to spend $378 million to defend itself against sea level rise. With inflation, it’s likely the actual cost is higher now.
Owners and buyers of real estate in coastal communities need to know what’s at-risk from sea level rise flooding in their community, how much it will cost to eliminate and mitigate the flood waters, how much local taxpayers will be expected to contribute to the effort, and the soundness and life-expectancy of the projects being implemented and those under consideration. Not knowing this critical information could lead to an unexpected loss of property value and spike in taxes and other expenses.