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					    Green infrastructure for the global warming era

Rising Tides in San Francisco Bay                         1
   A Closer Look: Sea Level Rise and Shoreline Flooding   4
San Francisco Bay’s Natural Flood Defense                 6
   A Closer Look: Tidal Marsh—The Bay’s Front-Line
   Defense Against Sea Level Rise
The Horizontal Levee                                      10
Conclusions and Recommendations                           12
    Beneath the Golden Gate Bridge the oldest tide               As in New Orleans and other heavily urbanized
gauge on the west coast recorded a rise in seal level        coastal cities, tens of billions of dollars have been
of almost eight inches between 1900 and 2000. The            invested in development, both commercial and
increase has caused recent storms to inflict greater flood   residential, along the shoreline of San Francisco Bay.
and erosion damage on low-lying coastal communities.         These developments are threatened by increasingly
Current forecasts project that mean sea level will rise      fierce storms as sea level continues to rise.
another 14 inches by 2050. By 2100, scientists estimate          San Francisco Bay possesses a very large inventory
an increase of 55 inches. Some amount of sea level           of restorable marshes that could help to significantly
rise is inevitable, and major public facilities such as      reduce the damage caused by future storms. Wetland
highways, railroads and airports are threatened with         restoration efforts have been underway in San
flooding.                                                    Francisco Bay for over thirty years. Starting with
    Scientists have known for decades that coastal           small, experimental projects in the late 1970s, they
wetlands protect oceanfront cities from the powerful         have evolved into a region-wide program with a goal
destructive forces of storms. Hurricane Katrina              to restore over 100,000 acres of bay marshes. However,
slammed into New Orleans with much greater force             that program has only lately come to incorporate sea
because of the massive loss of Louisiana’s coastal           level rise projections into restoration design. Scientists
wetlands. Now even politicians are calling for               now recognize that, toward the end of the century,
accelerated restoration of Gulf Coast wetlands to help       many of the Bay’s restored wetlands will be at risk of
buffer the impact of future storms.                          being drowned by rising seas.

37,000 acres of tidal marshes were destroyed to create solar salt evaporation ponds.                        3,000 years old tidal marsh channels survive in salt ponds.

The Lost Marshlands of San Francisco Bay                                                   spaces that lie between the open waters of the bay and the developed shoreline.
                                                                                           Scientists refer to these diked tidal marshes as the San Francisco “baylands.”
     One hundred ninety-six thousand acres of tidal marshlands thrived in San                   The San Francisco baylands have subsided relative to sea level as a result of
Francisco Bay’s shallows before 1850. Along with serving as nursery grounds                having been disconnected from the tidal waters of the bay. Though the original
for estuary fisheries, the marshlands functioned as barrier islands that protected         marsh plains once existed at an elevation well above mean sea level, their surface
the shore from erosive storm surges. During the last century and a half, 180,000           elevation has subsided to roughly five to ten feet below sea level. An extensive
acres of these marshes were filled, diked or drained. Some of the drained tidal            network of earthen levees prevents bay tidal waters from inundating these sunken
wetlands were intensively developed, such as San Francisco’s Financial and                 baylands. The levees are in relatively poor condition in most locations, though
Marina districts, Foster City, and San Francisco International Airport, but most           some levees that protect more intensively developed areas are maintained to a
of these diked wetlands were converted to solar salt evaporation ponds and                 higher standard.
agriculture lands. They remain today as salt ponds, hay farms and other open

Historic and existing baylands habitats throughout San Francisco Bay. Most tidal marshes in the North Bay were converted to agricultural fields, while marshes in the South
Bay were largely converted to commercial salt ponds and other industrial uses. Of the original 196,000-acre tidal marsh complex, 180,000 acres were destroyed. From the
Baylands Habitat Goals Project 1999.

A Closer Look
                                                                                               San Francisco Bay
                                                                                               Conservation and Development Commission                          San Francisco Bay Area
                                                                                               Area potentially exposed to an approximate                                Shoreline Areas
                                                                                         SAN FRANCISCOapproximate
                                                                                               16-inch sea level rise
                                                                                                                                 BAY AREA
                                                                                                                                                                     San Francisco Bay
                                                                                                                                                                  Potentially Exposed                                              San

Sea Level Rise and
                                                                                                                                                                     Conservation and Development Commission
                                                                                                 Area potentially exposed to an

                                                                                         SHORELINE AREAS
                                                                                                 55-inch sea level rise                                                  To Sea Level Rise
                                                                                                                                                                     Area potentially exposed to an approximate
                                                                                                 No data
                                                                                                                                                                     16-inch sea level rise
                                                                                                                                                                              Area potentially exposed to an approximate
                                                                                         POTENTIALLY EXPOSED do not account for shoreline protection orlevel rise These maps
                                                                                       DISCLAIMER: The inundation data used in these maps
                                                                                                                                                                              55-inch sea
                                                                                                                                                                                           wave activity.
                                                                                       are for informational purposes only. Users agree to hold harmless and blameless the State of California and its representatives
                                                                                                                                                                              No data
                                                                                                  SEA LEVEL RISE
                                                                                         TOhazards,insurance requirements, or property values or be used in lieu DISCLAIMER: The Rate Maps data used in these maps do not account for shore

Shoreline Flooding
                                                                                       and its agents for any liability associated with the use of the maps. The maps and data shall not be used to assess actual
                                                                                       coastal                                                                        of Flood Insurance inundation issued by the
                                                                                       Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).                                  are for informational purposes only. Users agree to hold harmless and blameless
                                                                                                                                                                    and its agents for any liability associated with the use of the maps. The maps and
                                                                                                                                                                    coastal hazards,insurance requirements, or property values or be used in lieu of F
                                                                                                                                                                    Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

     San Francisco Bay’s existing system of shoreline flood protection structures
is haphazardly designed and maintained. Levees are overtopped regularly in key
locations, resulting in flooding of vital public facilities, especially heavily used
roads and highways. The flood management system has relied for decades on an                                                                         Vallejo

                                                                                                                               San Pablo
aging network of earthen dikes that are continually sinking into soft bay mud.                                                    Bay                                                                                                                 Vallejo

Rising sea level is making the network obsolete.                                                                                                                                                                          San Pablo
                                                                                                                                                               Martinez                                  Pittsburg           Bay

     Sea level rose in San Francisco Bay by more than seven inches between 1900                                 Rafael

and 2000 as a result of global warming. The California Ocean Protection Council                                                       Richmond                                                      Rafael

estimates that sea level will rise an additional 14 inches by 2050 and up to 55
inches by 2100. The greatest threat to the developed shoreline in the near term is
not posed by flooding caused by increased mean sea levels on calm days, but by                                                                   Oakland

flooding caused by increasingly frequent storms that occur in combination with
higher tides.                                                                                                                San

      This study examines strategies to use San Francisco Bay’s recovering tidal                   Pacific

marsh ecosystem as an opportunity to help shoreline communities manage the                                                                 San Francisco
                                                                                                                                               Bay                                   Pacific
impacts of sea level rise. Specifically, it considers the flood protection functions                                                                                                 Ocean                                                San Francisco
that tidal marshes perform naturally and evaluates the merits of integrating
marshes into a multi-purpose shoreline management regime to reduce flood                                                                                                      Fremont

risk. It examines the current functions of Bay tidal marshes as well as of current
flood risk management practices. It considers how environmental conditions                              NORTH

are likely to change in the era of global warming and how to best adapt flood

risk management practices in response to those changes. The study’s intended               0   2    4           8 MILES
                                                                                                                                                                                               San Jose
audience is planners, politicians, regulators and other stakeholders with the                                                                                             0      2      4          8 MILES
                                                                                                                                                                                                             Sea level rise data provided by:
authority to make or affect decisions that influence the configuration and use of        Potential inundation with 16 and 55 inches of sea level rise. (From San Francisco Bay
                                                                                       SOURCE: Knowles, N. 2008. Siegel, S.W. and P. A. M. Bachand, 2002.
the San Francisco Bay shoreline.                                                         Conservation and Development Commission.)
                                                                                                                                                                    SOURCE: Knowles, N. 2008. Siegel, S.W. and P. A. M. Bachand, 2002.

A Change in the Weather
      Storm surges occurring atop higher sea levels already are causing increased
flooding within the San Francisco baylands, as well as within low-lying developed
areas near the bay. Major roads along the shoreline are regularly flooded during
winter storms and high tides. Residential and commercial areas within bay area
cities similarly are experiencing increased flooding. The aging network of bayland
levees is increasingly overburdened and will prove thoroughly inadequate as sea
level continues to rise during the coming decades.
     The National Academy of Sciences predicts that, “the incidence of extreme
high water events (1.4 m above historical mean sea level) in the San Francisco
Bay area will increase substantially with sea level rise, from less than 10 hours per
decade today to a few hundred hours per decade by 2050 and to several thousand
hours per decade by 2100.” (NAS, 2012.) The NAS notes the important role that
coastal wetlands can play in reducing the destructive force of these storms.

Adapting to Higher Tides
      Rising sea levels also threaten to submerge large areas of tidal marshes,
including many areas that have been restored over the past 35 years. These
projects are part of a regional marsh restoration initiative that has quietly grown
into the nation’s largest coastal wetland restoration program. The purpose of the
program is to reverse the historic trend of wetland destruction in order to recover
the significant benefits provided by tidal marshes and associated wetlands. Those
benefits include providing habitat for numerous wildlife species and performing
vital flood protection functions.
      The decades ahead offer a window of opportunity to restore San Francisco Bay
tidal wetlands. Restored marshes would not only provide greatly expanded areas
of habitat for declining wildlife populations, but would also provide tangible flood
protection benefits, buying time to develop long-term solutions to the problem
of sea level rise. A restored tidal wetland buffer would reduce the frequency and
magnitude of shoreline flooding, and thereby reduce the significant costs of            Valuable development built atop Bay tidal marshes is at risk. Redwood City shoreline.
defending and rebuilding valuable development.

    The Bay Institute’s analysis determined that tidal marshes
can significantly reduce the destructive power of storm surge.
This finding suggests that shoreline flood protection is improved
significantly when areas of tidal marsh exist between the
developed shoreline and the open waters of the bay. Further, it
indicates that by using tidal marsh in combination with a levee
constructed at the landward edge of the marsh, the size of the
levee can be reduced significantly while still providing the same
level of flood protection as would be provided by a larger levee
that was not fronted by tidal marsh.
    The Bay Institute’s study describes and evaluates the costs
and benefits of employing marsh restoration as an adaptation
strategy to rising sea levels in San Francisco Bay. Although the
study’s particulars pertain to San Francisco Bay, they can be
extrapolated to many similar coastal areas around the nation
and the globe. From San Francisco Bay to the Gulf Coast, from
Holland to the Rhone River Delta in France, and from Tokyo
to London, hundreds of coastal urban centers are beginning
to lament having destroyed valuable tidal marshes, and are
considering ways to recapture the substantial free benefits that        Surviving ancient tidal marsh near Petaluma.
they provided.

           Reduction in Wave Height Over Marsh for Different Water Levels

                                                                                                               1% Annual Chance
                                                                                                               50% Annual Chance
Relative to Offshore Wave Height

                                                                                                               Spring Tide
    Wave Height Over Marsh








                                         0   200    400                    600                 800                   1000

                                                                    Width of Marsh, ft

                                                                        Our analysis concluded that tidal marsh can reduce wave
Tidal Marshes Reduce Shoreline Flooding                             energy in extreme storm events by over 50%, and that a hybrid flood
    The Bay Institute examined two strategies to prevent or reduce protection system comprising a landward levee and an adjacent
the impact of shoreline flooding in San Francisco Bay caused by tidal marsh provides an equivalent level of flood protection to
sea level rise. We compared the traditional approach that relies on that of a much larger landward levee alone. Further, the cost of
construction of engineered earthen dikes to a hybrid approach that the hybrid system is almost half that of the traditional levee alone.
combines tidal marsh restoration with construction of dikes. First, These results suggest that it would be far more cost effective to
we analyzed the capacity of tidal marshes to reduce wave run-up build a hybrid flood protection system than it would to build a
and overtopping and, thereby, reduce the need to build larger dikes conventional earthen levee.
in the absence of buffering tidal marsh. Second, we compared the
costs of the two approaches.

Tidal Marshes Save                                                                          Levee Cost/Mile (In Millions) Over 50 Years
Hundreds of Millions of Dollars                                                                 $14M
    Sea level rise caused by global warming is already inflicting                                      $12.5M
                                                                                                                                Earthen Levee

damage to developed areas along the San Francisco Bay shoreline.                                $12M                            Tidal Marsh
That damage and its associated costs will increase as sea level rise
                                                                                                                                Brackish Marsh
accelerates. The current flood management system is inadequate                                  $10M
to maintain sufficient levels of protection. Important public

                                                                                Cost per Mile
infrastructure, including highways, bridges, roads, rail lines, utilities                       $8M
and airports, will experience increased damage from flooding in                                                       $6.29M            $6.69M
the coming decades. In the near term, between now and the second                                $6M
half of the 21st century, the bulk of that damage will be inflicted by
storms arriving on higher tides.                                                                $4M
    The conventional and, until now, presumed least costly approach
to addressing flood risk has been to increase the height and bulk of       $2M
levees. (Other more costly alternatives include construction of sea
walls and tidal barriers.) Although it has been recognized for many          0
                                                                                 Traditional Levee      Tidal Marsh
years that tidal marshes and associated wetlands provide tangible                                      Earthen Levee
                                                                                                                            Brackish Marsh
                                                                                                                              Tidal Marsh
flood protection benefits, those benefits generally have been                                                               Earthen Levee
dismissed during planning and construction of flood protection                                           Shoreline Type
networks.                                                            restoration can be used as an effective flood protection method that
    An effort is currently underway across the entire San Francisco is far more cost effective than traditional approaches. Second, a new
Bay to restore vast tracts of tidal marshes and associated wetlands. marsh restoration paradigm can facilitate marsh survival during
However, design of these restoration projects has generally not the current era of sea level rise, thereby protecting important marsh
incorporated provisions for long-term sea level rise. In order to functions.
fully realize the benefits of the marsh restoration program, new         The study clearly finds that nature’s capital is quite tangible and
designs must be developed and implemented that can accommodate can be put to much greater benefit than is currently the case. It
increasing sea levels.                                               further demonstrates that to continue to rely on old solutions is far
   This study identifies two strategies that can be employed to more costly to society. It points the way to a powerful tool in the sea
accomplish two critical public policy objectives. First, tidal marsh level rise adaptation toolbox.
A Closer Look

The Bay’s Front-Line Defense
Against Sea Level Rise
     An unofficial program of tidal marsh restoration has been underway in San
Francisco Bay for over 30 years. During this time, this program has grown to become
the largest coastal wetland restoration project in the United States. Its goal is to restore
as much of the vast tidal marsh ecosystem that existed before the California Gold
Rush as possible. Restoration advocates hope that the complex functions of the Bay’s
intertidal network of meandering sloughs and pickleweed isles can be revitalized, and
that something approaching the variety and abundance of plant and animal species
                                                                                               Tidal marshes provide flood protection for shoreline development.
that once thrived there will rebound and flourish.
     A fundamental premise of tidal marsh restoration is that these habitats will restore            Current forecasts indicate that San Francisco Bay’s original zone of intertidal
themselves naturally if proper conditions are created initially. Wetland restoration           habitat—a vast area comprising almost 200,000 acres—will experience much greater
scientists have learned that natural tidal marsh restoration processes can take years or       flood risk in the future, threatening large areas of essential shoreline development in
even decades to establish self-sustaining marshes.                                             addition to wildlife habitat. Consequently, wetland managers are considering whether
     Two basic presumptions—that the primary purpose of marsh restoration is to                it is possible to modify current restoration strategies to accomplish two additional
recover depleted habitat for wildlife, and that the process of restoration should be           objectives: enable restored marshes to keep pace with sea level rise and improve flood
allowed to happen on nature’s timescale—have been called into question by forecasts            protection of developed shoreline areas.
of increased rates of sea level rise caused by global warming. Wetland scientists now              This study considers whether it is possible to accomplish these two objectives
believe that these forecasts suggest that many restored and restorable marshes will be         by employing a multi-purpose, integrated approach to restoring and managing San
submerged if no action is taken.                                                               Francisco Bay’s original intertidal zone.

Nature’s Low-Cost Defense Against Sea Level Rise
    The Horizontal Levee is a new concept in coastal flood protection    growth of the marsh plain in order to keep pace with sea level rise.
that can be applied during the current era of sea level rise. It uses    Similar brackish, back-marsh networks existed historically as part
the natural flood protection benefits of coastal tidal marshes to        of the shoreline wetland complex, but were destroyed to make way
reduce the destructive forces of storms. In San Francisco Bay we         for development.
are well on our way to restoring the massive tidal marsh complex        This new marsh restoration paradigm would use sediment
that existed here prior to European colonization. By modifying the  dredged from nearby flood control channels as construction
design and accelerating implementation, the restored tidal marsh    material for the brackish marsh substrate. That material currently
network can play a key role in protecting communities and essential is excavated from those channels and disposed of in landfills.
infrastructure around the Bay’s shoreline for several decades.      Reclaimed wastewater from existing public treatment plants would
    The horizontal levee incorporates a brackish marsh at the be used to irrigate the marsh. Water treatment plants currently
landward edge of typical tidal marsh restoration designs. The spend considerable sums to pipe, pump and discharge wastewater
brackish marsh would function as a self-maintaining levee, building at distant locations in the bay.
in elevation as plant root systems expand. It accelerates vertical

    Implementation of this new approach will require that the              foundation that draws from the combined expertise of multiple
current informal San Francisco Bay wetland restoration program             federal, state and local agencies, as well as from nongovernmental
be integrated into a broader shoreline management program that             organizations and private enterprise. Creation of an EPA geographic
incorporates flood management and water treatment infrastructure,          program for San Francisco Bay will accelerate completion of the
and that it be adequately funded. The best model for this integrated       new green shoreline infrastructure in response to the immediate
approach is the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency’s geographic         threat of sea level rise, while saving hundreds of millions of dollars
program. The EPA geographic program is built on an interagency             compared to current practices.

                                             l   Mar

The Horizontal Levee                                        Tida
                                                                 l   Mud
 •	 The	greatest	threat	to	developed	areas	along	the	shoreline	of	San	Francisco	Bay	prior	to	the	latter	part	of	the	century	is	from	flooding	
    caused	by	storms	occurring	during	periods	of	high	tides,	not	from	elevated	sea	levels	alone.
 •	 Prior	 to	 the	 latter	 half	 of	 the	 century	 it	 is	 possible	 to	 adapt	 to	 sea	 level	 rise	 and	 protect	 existing	 land	 uses	 by	 employing	 strategic	
    modifications	of	shoreline	management	systems.
 •	 Tidal	marshes	can	provide	significant	flood	protection	benefits	by	reducing	wave	energy	during	storms.
 •	 Flood	protection	costs	could	be	reduced	by	almost	50%	by	integrating	marsh	restoration	into	a	new	multi-purpose	system.
 •	 A	“Horizontal	Levee,”	a	hybrid	tidal	marsh-flood	protection	system,	can	be	constructed	to	keep	pace	with	sea	level	rise	for	several	
    decades	in	critical	locations	if	construction	begins	immediately.
 •	 If	construction	of	the	Horizontal	Levee	system	is	delayed	for	too	long,	it	will	be	unable	to	keep	pace	with	expected	sea	level	increases	
    and	will	fail	to	provide	the	desired	flood	protection	and	habitat	benefits.

 •	 The	Horizontal	Levee	should	be	adopted	regionally	as	a	key	element	in	a	cost-effective,	multi-benefit	shoreline	management	strategy.
 •	 Public	 agencies	 should	 establish	 partnerships	 to	 accelerate	 design	 and	 implementation	 of	 the	 regional	 Horizontal	 Levee	 green	
    infrastructure.	Flood	management	districts,	water	and	sanitation	agencies,	and	wildlife	agencies	should	be	core,	managing	partners.
 •	 Congress	 should	 establish	 a	 San	 Francisco	 Bay	 Geographic	 Program	 within	 the	 Environmental	 Protection	Agency	 and	 authorize	
    funding	of	at	least	$1	billion	for	the	purpose	of	coordinating	and	implementing	a	regional	Horizontal	Levee	adaptation	program.	The	
    Program	should	also	investigate	other	cost-effective	green	infrastructure	strategies	that	hold	promise	to	adapt	to	sea	level	rise	and	
    other	climate	change	impacts.

350 Bay Street, #100 PMB 316, San Francisco, CA 94133
P: 415.262.4735 F: 415.623.5324 E:              Study conducted by ESA PWA
                                                        Photos: Marc Holmes, The Bay Institute
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