California Passes Legislation to Combat Coastal Climate Change Risks

When you think of California, the first things that come to mind probably have to do with sunshine, the ocean, or beaches.  As you can imagine, the California coastline is an integral component of the identity and economic well-being of the state.  Eighty percent of the state’s total population, over 30 million people, lives within 30 miles of the coast, and the coastal economy contributes $46 billion to the state.

Yet, climate change and sea level rise pose severe risks to people, public and private property, infrastructure, beaches, and other precious coastal resources in California.  A 2009 analysis by researchers at the Pacific Institute found that nearly $100 billion worth of property statewide is at risk from a 100-year coastal flood event following a sea level rise of 4.6 feet.  This level of sea level rise is in line with projections (1.4 to 5.5 feet) for 2100 according to recent findings from the National Academy of Sciences.  In addition, due to sea level rise and changes in coastal storms, the current 100-year storm could occur once a year by 2050.

In a blog post a few months ago, I wrote about a bill making its way through the California State Legislature.  SB 1066 authorizes the State Coastal Conservancy to fund and implement projects to address climate change impacts, including sea level rise, storm surge, flooding, and other coastal hazards.  The bill was passed by the legislature in August and late last week, Governor Brown signed the bill into law.  It will go into effect in January 2013.      

This legislation establishes clear authority for the Coastal Conservancy to address climate change through projects and grants to public agencies and non-profits.  Among other things, it will help to maintain public access to the coast; protect and restore wetlands; build coastal resilience to climate impacts; and protect infrastructure, including ports, highways, and hiking and biking trails.  It also will give the conservancy authority to work with local agencies and private entities to address coastal climate risks.

As I and others have written about previously, California, in many respects, is outpacing states across the U.S. when it comes to preparing for climate impacts.  The state has developed a comprehensive climate adaptation strategy (and is working on an update), and state agencies are integrating potential climate change impacts into agency operations and planning and are developing tools and resources to assist local communities. 

The passage and signing of SB 1066 into law is just one more example of how California is working to manage climate change risks, and it serves as another example of what other coastal states should be doing to prepare for rising seas and a changing climate.                

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