Santa Barbara releases draft Sea-Level Rise Adaptation Plan for public review

The document identifies areas of the city vulnerable to sea-level rise, including the harbor and Stearns Wharf, and recommends potential actions the city could take to adapt over time.

SANTA BARBARA—Santa Barbara has released its draft Sea-Level Rise Adaptation Plan for public review. Like many California coastal communities, Santa Barbara has been working on a plan for reducing vulnerabilities from potential sea-level rise. The plan includes detailed recommendations for necessary actions in the next ten years and a structure for future decision-making.

The plan is largely based on projections from a 2018 statewide analysis of potential sea-level rise scenarios. Those scenarios include the near-term, 2020-2030, when 0-0.8 feet of sea level rise is predicted; mid-term, 2030-2060, when 0.8-2.5 feet is predicted; and long-term, 2060-2100, when 2.5-6.6 feet of sea level rise is predicted.

The plan said the city will need to monitor and evaluate the trajectory toward these thresholds to track whether and when these thresholds are met. The plan recommended the city, in consultation with other regional, state, and federal agencies, create a Shoreline Monitoring Program to track changes in environmental conditions.

According to the plan, at around half-a-foot of sea-level rise, the city will need to consider how to protect the harbor commercial area and parking lots. The plan said with 2.5 feet of sea-level rise, most harbor functions would be impeded and high tides would exceed marina guide pile heights, and storm waves could significantly impact the harbor if no action is taken. By 6.6 feet of sea-level rise, the harbor would be unusable without major reconstruction, the plan stated.

The plan includes recommended actions for the city to take in the next five years to mitigate impacts. Those actions include raising or modifying the harbor breakwater, rock groin, sandspit, and the walkway and wall spanning from the breakwater to the harbor commercial area; pursuing Army Corps of Engineers feasibility studies, funding, and assistance with these projects; renovating marina facilities and the City Pier in phases; continuing use of beach berms and considering additional beach or dune nourishment south of the harbor commercial area; continuing the current regulatory practice of limiting uses in the harbor; and requiring that new development and substantial redevelopment be designed to avoid or mitigate the impacts associated with sea-level rise.

“Start in the next few years to plan for replacement or modification of the Harbor breakwater, walkway, and seawall that spans from the breakwater to the waterfront offices in the Harbor commercial area as well as the sandspit and rock groin, with expectation that these are raised by the time 0.5–1 foot of sea-level rise occurs,” the Draft Plan recommends.

In the mid- and long-term, the plan recommends the city consider options such as continuing to raise seawalls, floodproofing development, raising the grades of the harbor commercial area and parking lots, or removal or relocation of certain Harbor facilities. In addition, the plan recommends the city consider adaptation of Stearns Wharf either by reconstructing the wharf with a higher deck and deck structural supports or removing the wharf and relocating all the businesses.

The plan projects potential sea level rise could cost the city $4.1 billion by 2100 if no action is taken.

The full Draft Adaptation Plan can be found at bit.ly/34sBuR5. Public comments are being accepted through Sept. 30 and can be sent to SLRPlan@SantaBarbaraCA.gov. A public webinar on the Draft Adaptation Plan, including a question and answer session, will be held on Sept. 24.

The plan is projected to go before the City Council for approval in November or December and if approved, implementation would begin in 2021.

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