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Building by the Bay
SEA LEVEL RISE THREATENS WATERFRONT DEVELOPMENT
1st in a Series
NEW CONSTRUCTION WORTH BILLIONS COULD BE FLOODED WITHIN DECADES
Summer 2015 — The Bay Area’s current waterfront building frenzy includes at least $21 billion in housing and commercial construction in low-lying areas that climate scientists say could flood by the end of the century. In examining approval processes for new buildings on the edge of San Francisco Bay, our team found that some cities are greenlighting waterfront development without planning for the long term or fully accounting for the future cost of reconfiguring large projects to resist flooding.
In light of a new convergence in scientific projections — in which sea level rise could drive floodwaters during extreme storms as high as 8 feet above today's high tide — some scientists and community activists are calling for reforms. That may not happen before all these new waterfront communities and office parks get built. Developers say they can raise the land, waterproof basements and build levees and seawalls much higher to protect residents and businesses. But critics say the burden of protecting new real estate is being passed on to the taxpayers of the next two or three generations.
See part 2 of this series: Wild West on the Waterfront, from the spring 2017 edition.
ABOUT THIS REPORTING PROJECT
In recent years, researchers in many disciplines have mapped detailed projections for potential flooding as sea levels rise. And, importantly, these models now mostly agree. The Public Press compared these models against local and regional policies and with recent building permit data. The research reveals that billions of dollars worth of planned development could be threatened by rising waters within a human lifetime.
REPORTING: Kevin Stark, Winifred Bird, Michael Stoll, Emily Dugdale, Lulu Orozco, Paul Lorgerie, Sophie Murguia, Caroline Cakebread and Tanya Dzekon
EDITING: Laura Impellizzeri, Kevin McKean and Katherine Bourzac
CARTOGRAPHY: Marcea Ennamorato, Maia Wachtel and Brittany Burson of the UC Berkeley Cartography & GIS Education Lab
PHOTO & VIDEO: Eric Lawson, Peter Snarr and Dayvon Dunaway
ILLUSTRATION & DESIGN: Erika Rae Langdon, Clark Miller, Emily Underwood and Anna Vignet
ONLINE: Amanda Hickman
SPECIAL THANKS: John Upton of Climate Central
THIS PROJECT WAS MADE POSSIBLE BY DONATIONS FROM PUBLIC PRESS MEMBERS, AND BY A CHALLENGE GRANT FROM THE SAN FRANCISCO FOUNDATION