Port of San Diego and U.S. Navy agree to address sea level rise

The district’s commission unanimously approves a partnership memorandum calling for coordination and cooperation.

SAN DIEGO — Sea level rise is real and more needs to be done to address its potential impacts. This was the message advanced by the U.S. Navy and Port of San Diego, as both agencies entered into a memorandum of agreement to coordinate and cooperate on sea level rise preparedness and adaptation, May 8.

The Port of San Diego’s Board of Port Commissioners unanimously approved the memorandum at its May meeting. Commission members hailed the partnership with the Navy as a milestone for California’s southernmost coastal region.

Commission Chair Rafael Castellanos said the partnership between the port district and U.S. Navy transcends politics and demonstrates a need to proactively address sea level rise.

“There are a lot of politics associated with sea level rise [and] climate change, but the reality is when you have someone like the Navy that understands the significance of this and is planning for this, [regardless] of the politics, that’s something we all need to pay attention to,” Castellanos said. “We need to preserve our quality of life. We have to think long-term about protecting the Port of San Diego.”

Commissioner Marshall Merrifield said preparing for potential sea level rise is smart planning, as the San Diego Bay is surrounded by an international airport, residences, an urban downtown core, tourist attractions, businesses and the Navy.

“We also have a lot of economic activity: 33,000 jobs are contingent on the bay,” Merrifield said. “It’s not just about preparing for [storm surges or sea level rise], but it’s recovery from that. Houston is still coming out [from Hurricane Harvey]. The adaptation that’s needed to recover quickly [is important].”

California officials projected sea levels to rise from one-half foot to 1.5 feet by mid-century somewhere between 2 and 7 feet by 2100, according to Port of San Diego’s Assistant Vice President for Planning and Green Port Jason Giffen stated.

Giffen said the port district and U.S. Navy should, regardless of forecasts, have contingency plans in place.

“Regardless of the amount of sea level rise by the end of the century, coastal flooding and inundation is an issue and is expected to occur,” Giffen said. “The [port] district and Navy Region Southwest recognize that maritime and coastal activities are important to the vitality of our region. Flooding and inundation caused by changes in sea level rise pose a threat to both our agencies, our operations, the economy, security and the environment.”

Phil Gibbons, who spoke to commissioners on behalf of port district staff, said the Navy-Port of San Diego partnership could help overcome the challenges both agencies and the public-at-large faces in addressing sea level rise.

“This is a complicated process and planning endeavor. There are many challenges with the subject matter: the science is difficult to understand, it’s uncertain and it involves long-term time horizons,” Gibbons told commissioners.

Port district staff added the Navy is already undertaking similar efforts to address sea level rise on the East Coast. The Navy’s partnership with the state of Virginia on addressing the effects of sea level rise at an installation in Norfolk effectively served as a model for the port district.

“The Department of Defense … has been collecting data and assessing installations’ vulnerability to sea level rise on [more than] 700 coastal locations throughout the world,” port district staff stated in a report to commissioners. “Currently, one of the most at risk naval installations in the United States is located at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia. There, flooding occurs frequently causing interruptions to daily operations. The Navy has partnered with the state of Virginia and local cities such as Norfolk and Virginia Beach to coordinate sea level rise planning efforts for the area.”

Port district staff said the memorandum of agreement to address sea level rise was “smart planning and the right thing to do.”

California law currently requires local or regional agencies such as the Port of San Diego to prepare and submit to the state a sea level rise vulnerability analysis and assessment plan by July 1, 2019.

“The analysis must include maps showing areas potentially affected by sea level rise and storm surge in years 2030, 2050, and 2100,” port district staff stated in a report to commissioners. “Furthermore, the assessment shall describe how the trustee proposes to protect and preserve natural and human-made resources and facilities, and provide an estimate of the financial costs of the impacts of sea level rise.”


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