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article imageSea level rise already worsening damage from storms in California

By Karen Graham     Jan 30, 2017 in Environment
Sacramento - Rising ocean levels are impacting low-lying coastal regions around the world, and along the West Coast of the United States this winter, we have seen the results of sea-level rise in the extreme high tides and flooding that hit California.
The winter storms that hit California this month caused extreme flooding in low-lying areas and led to a number of deaths, despite the state being a global leader in the fight against climate change. The damages experienced in this short-term event point to the hard work that still needs to be done.
Damage assessments are still being done and could rise into the millions of dollars. Heavy rains and extreme high tides caused coastal and inland flooding, damaging homes, highways, roads, and bridges. Hundreds of trees were toppled, homes were without power, and people died.
LA Co Public Works
California farmers provide about half of all the fruits, vegetables, and tree nuts sold in the U.S. And while the rains were welcomed in the drought-starved state, the extremes of precipitation left many fields under water, leaving winter vegetables to mildew and rot. "For many of our farmers, it's difficult to get in to plant or they have crops in the ground that are hard to harvest because the fields are muddy," said Tom Nassif, president, and CEO of Western Growers, reports CNBC.
Larry Goldzband, the head of a regional San Francisco Bay commission was quoted by the Associated Press: "People always tell us we're ahead of the curve" on climate change. "I always think, 'Man, if we are ahead of the curve, I feel sorry for the rest of the country."
A road is blocked off due to floodwaters on January 23  2017 in Santa Clarita  California
A road is blocked off due to floodwaters on January 23, 2017 in Santa Clarita, California
And the San Francisco Bay Area is one region in California that has been thoroughly studied with regards to climate change and the impact it will have in the future on low-lying coastal cities, airports, and highways.
Gary Griggs is the director of the Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is part of a scientific working group requested by Gov. Jerry Brown mandated to examine new evidence on melting and ice sheet collapse in the Antarctic. There is real concern that accelerated melting of the ice sheets could surpass the expected three-foot rise in ocean levels by the end of this century.
The Pacific Ocean along the California coast has already risen eight inches in the last century. And the evidence is already being seen as short-term storm events are worsening the flooding and erosion. "Probably until mid-century, short-term events ... are going to be more damaging than sea-level rise itself," Griggs said.
Fraser Shilling, an ecologist, and co-director of the Road Ecology Center at the University of California, Davis had forecast that California wouldn't see the kind of flooding experienced this January for another 20 years.
National Weather Service
"This is the new normal," says Shilling. He now believes sea rise is already changing conditions on the ground more than some state agencies realize. "And all of our infrastructure is not accommodating the new normal."
It will take billions of dollars to tackle projects that would mitigate damages to infrastructure, and this leads to the question of where would the state get the money? Some state officials suggest that funding will be difficult until a large number of the population are inconvenienced.
State Senator Jerry Hill, a Democrat from San Mateo County, says a major event, like a stretch of U.S. Highway 101 near San Francisco's old Candlestick Park flooding keeping people from getting to work would get everyone's attention. "That will be the wake-up call, when the rubber hits the road," he said. "When the water hits the tailpipe."
More about Sea level rise, Climate change, California, Winter storms, roads and cities
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