Port of San Diego, other agencies comply with sea level rise planning

Public entities such as the port district were required to submit adaptive strategies to the state by July 1.

SAN DIEGO—A law requiring certain public entities to assess the potential effects of and protect public trust resources from sea level rise was the subject of a broad presentation made by the Port of San Diego’s staff on June 18. The presentation port district staff to the Board of Port Commissioners provided an overview of what regional officials would be doing to adapt to predicted sea level rise between now and 2100.

Phil Gibbons, a program manager with the Port of San Diego, said the port district is required by Assembly Bill 691 to plan for the potential effects of predicted sea level rise and better understand possible vulnerabilities. A plan to address sea level rise was due to the State Lands Commission by July 1. Projections of sea level rise for 2030, 2050 and 2100 had to be included in the report.

Port district staff met the July 1 deadline and presented the state with a plan to address sea level rise through an adaptive management framework. The plan calls for the port district to first make a vulnerability assessment before engaging in adaptive planning and implementing a strategy. Keeping the public informed, monitoring the progress of the plan and sea level rise, and an evaluation of assessments and strategies are also part of the process.

“It’s fair to say that sea level rise is a very complex issue. The science is complicated, the planning horizon is very long,” Gibbons told commissioners. “There is a lot of uncertainty with predictions of sea level rise.”

Gibbons added the port district created an adaptive management approach to address the prospect of rising sea levels at and around San Diego Bay. He added there are already signs of sea level rise at the bay.

“In the bay we’ve already observed a 0.7-foot increase in sea level rise, which is … about 8 inches of sea level rise over the past 100 years” Gibbons said. “There’s a tide gauge in San Diego Bay, it’s been there for 100 years, so this is a … great data set to assess water levels in the bay.”

Port district staff has been reviewing best available science and models showcasing inundation and flooding possibilities.

The lower end sea level rise projection for San Diego Bay, according to Gibbons, was 2.5 feet by 2100; the high end was 4.9 feet, also by 2100.

Gibbons also mentioned the following projections: 0.8-foot increase in sea levels by 2030, and a 1.6-foot increase by 2050.

Adaptive planning, Gibbons said, is expected to be the new normal for the port district.

“We’ve already developed policies in the Port Master Plan and Update. We’ve designed nature-based solutions. We’ve designed a living shoreline for South San Diego Bay,” Gibbons said. “We’re working on shoreline solutions … and we’re going to begin designing our buildings and infrastructure with sea level rise in mind.”

Commissioner Rafael Castellanos said while the future is uncertain it won’t hurt the port district to take as many precautions as possible.

“We don’t know what technology is going to look like in the future. We don’t know how much the sea will rise. There’s a lot of uncertainty,” Castellanos said. “But this starts to give us a framework for being … adaptive and nimble. [It also allows us] to attack the problem in a sensible way that doesn’t obligate us to do certain things that make a lot of people nervous.”

Also expressing urgency to act now was Commission Marshall Merrifield.

“This is the kind of real challenge, real problem that has so many dimensions to it, if we don’t get working on it now, we won’t ever get working on it,” Merrifield said.

The port district is among a group of public entities required to submit sea level rise plans to the State Lands Commission. The submission must outline what the agency plans to do to address the potential fallout of predicted sea level rise. Plans must include illustrated maps and sea level rise scenarios in 2030, 2050, 2100 and a 100-year storm event.

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