By now, many readers have heard of “king tides” — the highest high tides of the year, which occurred last week. These high tides, which happen when there is alignment of the gravitational pull between sun and moon, give us a glimpse of the future with sea level rise.

While king tides bring higher water to the shoreline, storms also elevate water levels. The decrease in barometric pressure during a storm causes ocean waters to rise. Add in wind and waves, plus a high tide, and water levels today can rise by 3.5 feet in San Mateo County.

According to the best available scientific projections for California, sea levels could increase by up to 2 feet in the next 35 years, and by up to 5.5 feet by the end of the century. San Mateo County is especially vulnerable to rising seas. The Pacific Institute has calculated that the county has $25 billion of assets at risk from sea level rise, more than any other county in California. In addition, approximately 115,000 people reside in areas that could be flooded. Moreover, our county has the most contaminated or hazardous sites at risk from sea level rise in the state, with about a quarter of the state’s sites located here.

Although the prospect of an increasingly wet future is daunting, the news isn’t all doom and gloom. Our county is a leader in preparing for sea level rise, and the work that we are doing now could serve as a model for other communities. 

The county is currently conducting a vulnerability assessment, funded by the California Coastal Conservancy, to identify the assets that are at risk from flooding and erosion today and in the future. This planning process, called SeaChangeSMC, is a multiyear effort to develop strategies for preparing for sea level rise and extreme storm events.

It is crucial for everyone to learn as much as possible about the potential impact of sea level rise. That is why the Board of Supervisors authorized funding for the Youth Exploring Sea Level Rise project that will educate young students about this topic. During last week’s king tides, science students from Redwood City, Half Moon Bay and Woodside high schools participated in a new service learning program to gather data and information that will help the county’s planning process.

Along with Assemblymember Rich Gordon, we will be hosting SeaChangeSMC’s first public workshop starting at 10 a.m. on Saturday at Genentech’s campus in South San Francisco. This family-friendly event will examine the challenges facing our communitiy. Demand is high, so, if the free tickets are gone, look for another event in the spring.

Please join us, along with the rest of the SeaChangeSMC team, for this important conversation about the future of our communities. To register for the event go to http://seachangesmc.com/events/openhouse/.

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