What Rising Sea Levels Will Do to San Francisco

August 3rd 2015

Alex Mierjeski

According to a report out last week by the San Francisco Public Press, parts of the Bay Area around San Francisco face rising water levels over the next century due to climate change, with levels expected to increase by as much as 8 feet over current high tide levels in the worst case.

But as sea levels inevitably rise and swallow shorelines throughout the Bay, many costly development projects in and around San Francisco will be subject to flooding thanks to insufficient planning and short-sighted permit issuance by at least a dozen Bay Area cities, the report found.

San Francisco Sea Levels

Collectively, the building projects planned along San Francisco's shores examined in the Public Press report––some 27 major commercial and residential developments––are estimated to cost around $21 billion and include both residential homes as well as offices belonging to companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Facebook. The new, mixed-use Golden State Warriors facility, slated to open for the 2018-19 NBA season, is also near the water. All of those complexes, according to the report, are set to be on land lower than eight feet above the current high tide.

Part of the problem stems from outdated flood ordinances, which the report notes do not account for predicted sea rise. And with breakneck development in the Bay Area, due in part to the booming tech sector, few cities or counties have taken serious passes at updating ordinances and building codes, potentially setting up taxpayers to front at least part of the cost of "enormously expensive emergency protections and repairs," the report notes. Moreover, some cities seem bereft of concern over future flooding and are even incentivizing development with the hope of generating millions in tax revenue. Per the report: "some cities are offering developers tax credits, low-cost land and flood-control infrastructure to encourage building on their shorelines."

Read the full story, along with a host of contributing reports, over at San Francisco Public Press.

Back in June, we highlighted a Reveal News report that laid out, in frightening detail, how California's landmass is slowly sinking into the ground, in a phenomenon known as subsidence that has so far caused millions in damages to the state's infrastructure and has augmented the dangers associated with disasters like flooding.

California Is Literally Sinking

California is literally sinking.

Posted by ATTN: on Thursday, July 30, 2015


Subsidence occurs when underground water resources are depleted to such an extent that the land above it deflates like an air mattress––a problem that has flared recently as residents increasingly turn to groundwater in the face of state-mandated water cutbacks. Last summer reportedly saw the worst subsidence in the last 50 years, and according to the report, the state has done startlingly little in the way of devoting resources to track or study sinking land, even as groundwater reliance increases.