Heal the Bay Blog

Category: Climate Change

Climate change is real. We could lose two-thirds of our beaches in L.A. by 2100, writes Heal the Bay vice president Sarah Sikich.

As a surfer, scientist, and unabashed fan of romanticized sunset walks on the beach, my heart sunk as my news feed was blasted with a double whammy of bad beach news this week.

First, the White House declared war against the smart climate change policies enacted by the previous administration, which served to protect our communities and the economy. Second, the U.S. Geological Survey unveiled a report that projects that Southern California could lose up to two-thirds of its beaches by 2100 due to climate-related sea-level rise. We cannot afford to move backwards with climate policy when now, more than ever, public health and our environment need proactive solutions to mitigate against and adapt to negative impacts related to rising temperatures.

Los Angeles is known for its beaches. They fuel tourism in the region and provide Angelenos a place to breath, relax, and take in the horizon – offering a break from the buzz and stress of city life. But, these beaches also buffer our coastal communities from the incoming tide and pounding waves. With sea level rise projections of up to 6.5 feet by 2100, eroded beaches would give way to flooding in low-lying neighborhoods, such as Wilmington and Venice. Floods would do damage to coastal infrastructure, like PCH and water treatment plants, pump stations, and other structures that service our communities. A detailed report came out last month from USC Sea Grant that projects detailed impacts from sea level rise along the entire Los Angeles County coastline, and the projections are even starker with the new USGS study released this week.

Exposed bedrock on a beach near Santa Barbara. Daniel Hoover, U.S. Geological Survey

The best way to prepare our coastal communities is to invest in strong climate policy in two ways: mitigating the impacts of climate change by curbing emissions, and by buffering our built and natural environments through adaptation measures that help protect against climate change impacts already underway.

These measures work best when the natural environment is enhanced through measures like dune restoration, protecting and restoring kelp forests, and beach nourishment. And, as demonstrated by the USGS study, agency research is a critical part of the process. Unwinding climate policies and gutting budgets for EPA and NOAA — key agencies that invest in climate research and preparedness — will only leave us with our heads in the sand, drowning from the rising seas.

The good news is that research, planning, and management measures can be put into place to help curb the impacts from sea-level rise. But, the longer we wait, the more difficult it will be to take meaningful action. Now is the time to double down on efforts to prepare and defend our coastlines. Please join Heal the Bay and our supporters in making your voice heard by signing our petition calling for funds to be maintained for climate programs in both NOAA and EPA. More than 70,000 ocean lovers and science believers have joined the call. Please add your voice.

Some comments from our supporters around the nation:

“I’m signing because I believe in science. Climate change is real, and our planet is in peril.” – Andrea from Mill Valley, CA

“These cuts in funding are directly against our country’s and humanity’s best interests.” – Floyd from Anchorage, AK

“The EPA is indispensable – I want myself, my family, my community, my country and my planet to be protected!” – Meg from Salt Lake City, UT

“Any proposed reduction in funding for the EPA and NOAA will adversely affect the U.S.’s ability to combat climate change in ways that we cannot afford.” – Elizabeth from Dallas, TX

The new administration ordered funding freezes of EPA grants and contracts yesterday. Communications Director Matthew King examines five ways this directive could harm the Bay.

UPDATE 2/1/17: Today members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works boycotted the vote to confirm Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s nomination to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A vote will be rescheduled in the coming days. Add your voice to this petition now urging the U.S. Senate Committee to reject Pruitt’s nomination. Tell our elected officials to maintain strong EPA funding for programs that affect our Bays nationwide.

These are strange and unsettled times in Washington, D.C. Many conservatives and populists are euphoric about the promise of a new administration, while progressives grow increasingly pessimistic with each passing day.

It’s also safe to say these are strange and unsettled times here in our offices, as we process what the actions of the Trump administration could mean for our work and the Bay.

As a trusted watchdog, Heal the Bay is guided by the best science, not emotion. And when a federal action from the new administration threatens the health and well-being of the Bay, we speak out forcefully.

Well, this week is one of those weeks.

Coming into work yesterday morning, we learned that the new administration had imposed an immediate freeze on grants and contracts by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The startling move “threatens to disrupt core operations ranging from toxic cleanups to water quality testing,” according to a ProPublica record search.

In all, the U.S. EPA dispenses some $6.4 billion in federal grants each year to support testing, cleanup and remediation initiatives, including several Heal the Bay programs.

Transition officials insist the freeze is merely a pause and allows incoming managers to assess if the programs should move forward. But longtime U.S. EPA employees and seasoned advocates paint a different picture – hiring freezes happen, but grant freezes are unusual and can threaten to disrupt contracted work.

Here’s how one U.S. EPA contractor responded to questions from a stormwater management employee, per ProPublica: “Right now we are in a holding pattern. The new U.S. EPA administration has asked that all contract and grant awards be temporarily suspended, effective immediately. Until we receive further clarification, this includes task orders and work assignments.”

Many questions remain about the EPA freeze, such as how long it will last and which contracts it impacts.

As recipients of nearly $200,000 in yearly U.S. EPA grants, we are rightly anxious. Similarly, many of our partner organizations receive federal funds that power collaborative initiatives with Heal the Bay.

We still have more questions than answers, but here’s a look at our top 5 issues that could be affected by grant freezes:


1. Regular Monitoring of Beach Water Quality

Our Beach Report Card provides weekly A-to-F water-quality grades for more than 500 California beaches, protecting millions of oceangoers each year from getting sick. U.S. EPA grants underwrite the weekly sampling and testing of beaches conducted by many county health agencies throughout the state. No money = no testing = no data = no Beach Report Card = compromised public health. We’ve faced this issue with temporary budget reductions in the past, and have scrambled to piecemeal some bridge funds to keep some monitoring alive. But, there is no current plan for the state or other funders to pick up the pieces dropped by EPA if funding for beach programs is slashed.


2. Keeping Our Local Streams Healthy

The health of the Bay can’t be separated from the health of the waters that feed it. Fully functioning and thriving creeks, streams and rivers provide numerous environmental benefits – habitat, improved water quality and recreational space. U.S. EPA grants to our Stream Team program fund our staff scientists’ ongoing monitoring and education efforts along the L.A. River. Programs, like U.S. EPA’s Urban Waters Grant programs are specially designed to support restoration and protection of the important waterways that flow through communities in places that are most in need of open and natural space. Loss of programs like these is particularly devastating for L.A.


3. Protecting Our Dwindling Wetlands

L.A. has already lost 95% of its coastal lagoons. With climate change and urbanization encroaching on our few remaining wetlands, it’s critical we act now to defend critical habitat. Through its National Estuary Program, the U.S. EPA funds work to coordinate protection and restoration of important habitats throughout Santa Monica Bay, like Ballona Wetlands and coastal dunes. Sarah Sikich, Heal the Bay’s vice president, serves as a Vice Chair of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission Governing Board, the state partner of the National Estuary Program. Without this Commission, protection and revitalization of habitats and water quality in the Santa Monica Bay would be seriously hamstrung.

These are essential initiatives for the long-term health of the Bay and Southern California. Freezing or cutting back on these programs would truly be pound foolish.


4. Getting Rid of DDT in the Bay

Many people don’t realize that the Bay is home to an EPA Superfund site – a tag applied to some of the nation’s most dangerously polluted sites. A 180-acre swath of ocean floor off Palos Verdes is the world’s largest deposit of the pesticide DDT, the legacy of chemical dumping in the ‘50s and ‘60s. The EPA’s decades-long plan to clean up this mess should not be in limbo, because a legal settlement requires it to be cleaned up to protect animal life and people alike.


5. Preventing the Unsafe Consumption of Locally Caught Fish

Most fish caught in Santa Monica Bay are safe to eat. Some species, however, are contaminated with toxic levels of DDT, PCB and mercury. Thanks to an EPA grant, our award-winning Pier Angler Outreach team has canvassed local fishing spots and directly warned nearly 150,000 people about what fish are dangerous to eat in a variety of languages from Tagalog to Spanish. Because this is contract work required under a legal settlement, it is buffered against today’s freeze.

These grant and contract freezes are part of a set of bigger concerns. The new administration has begun to advance real threats to roll back clean water programs and regulations that protect public health; offer habitat protections for wetlands and streams that buffer communities from climate change impacts and safeguard wildlife; and many other important environmental achievements. Muzzling its agencies from communicating about their important work and the status of our environment also does a huge disservice to the public, keeping Americans in the dark about important research findings and the state of environmental resources.

In the coming days, we promise to share more information about changes at the U.S. EPA as we receive it. And as concerned as we are about the actions of the past few days, we remain on high alert for the realization of any roll-backs of federal regulations that have been discussed, which may impact California. If you care about these issues, now is the time to make your voice heard. Contact your representative to urge them to protect important environmental policies and programs. We will also soon be posting an Action Alert that will allow you to urge policy makers to maintain strong EPA funding for vital programs that affect the Bay. Stay tuned.

While we strategize on a more formal response to this week’s funding freeze, we encourage you to consider a donation to help support our work to protect the Bay.

Dec. 7, 2016 — The new appointee for EPA administrator raises some red flags for Heal the Bay’s work, says science and policy director Dr. Rita Kampalath.

UPDATE 2/1/17: Today members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works boycotted the vote to confirm Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s nomination to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A vote will be rescheduled in the coming days. Add your voice to this petition now urging the U.S. Senate Committee to reject Pruitt’s nomination. Tell our elected officials to maintain strong EPA funding for programs that affect our Bays nationwide.

Speaking personally, there’s been little to be excited about as news of the presidential transition and new administration appointees has trickled out the past few weeks. But I’ll admit that the optimist in me still held on to a little spark of hope about the ultimate choice for EPA Administrator.

As the person tasked with enforcing our Clean Water and Clean Air acts, the chief sets the tone and priorities for the administration, whose work dovetails with many of our issues on a daily basis. The EPA responds both to immediate crises like the Flint drinking-water crisis, as well as long-term challenges like climate change.

Maybe I wouldn’t be thrilled by the choice, but the appointee would be someone who at the very least believed in the mission of the agency, if not the specific strategies we would prefer. Unfortunately, that spark was extinguished with today’s news of the pick of Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt to head up the nation’s top environmental agency.

While we didn’t get Scylla it sure seems that we’re stuck with Charybdis. He fought to limit the scope of the Clean Water Rule (Waters of the United States Rule), which sought to bring more waterbodies under the protection of the Clean Water Act. The CWA is the federal regulation that has underpinned Heal the Bay’s major policy gains, such as fighting for strict pollution limits on the L.A. River. Pruitt who has close ties to oil and gas companies, also has been one of the leaders in the fight against environmental regulations that would impact energy and producers. Pruitt is part of a coalition of state attorneys general suing the EPA over the Clean Power Plan, which aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power companies.

With this pick, it’s clear that Heal the Bay’s science and policy staff will have to be more vigilant than ever to ensure that on a local level our natural resources are protected.  Stay tuned.

UPDATE 2/1/17: Today members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works boycotted the vote to confirm Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s nomination to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A vote will be rescheduled in the coming days. Add your voice to this petition now urging the U.S. Senate Committee to reject Pruitt’s nomination. Tell our elected officials to maintain strong EPA funding for programs that affect our Bays nationwide.

Nov. 21, 2016 — Amid all the uncertainty in Washington D.C., Heal the Bay promises to keep a sharp eye on what a new administration means for our local environment, writes Dr. Rita Kampalath, Heal the Bay’s science and policy director.

UPDATE 2/1/17: Today members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works boycotted the vote to confirm Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s nomination to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A vote will be rescheduled in the coming days. Add your voice to this petition now urging the U.S. Senate Committee to reject Pruitt’s nomination. Tell our elected officials to maintain strong EPA funding for programs that affect our Bays nationwide.

While we’re still celebrating the tremendous wins that the California environment scored in the recent elections, we have been hearing voices of concerns from many Heal the Bay supporters about changes afoot on the national level. After months of campaign rhetoric, there’s a lot of uncertainty about the real-world policies and appointments rolling out from a new leader in the White House.

Given our 31-year role as a staunch defender of our local seas and watersheds, we’ve been paying particular attention to discussions about such topics as the purpose of the EPA and ongoing climate change policy. In my role of heading policy for an organization always guided by the best science, I’ve frankly been dismayed to hear opinions expressed by the new administration on some issues related to our core work. These initial reactions range from mildly concerning to truly alarming, given that some pronouncements are simply at odds with established scientific consensus. As a result, we’re going to be watching what goes on at the federal level closer than ever.

Below are topics our policy team will be keeping an eye on in the coming months as the new administration formalizes its course of action:

Climate change: Despite the consensus of the vast majority of the scientific community that man-made climate change is very real, the issue remains a contentious topic for federal legislators, and a key policy area to watch going forward. The choice of a well-known climate change skeptic as leader of the EPA transition team has been disheartening, especially as Myron Ebell is also mentioned as potentially heading up the agency long-term.

The past few years have seen tremendous progress in the U.S. accepting our responsibility to take action for warming temperatures, highlighted by our ratification of the Paris Agreement last year. The incoming administration has expressed a clear stance on withdrawing the U.S. from this landmark agreement. This is obviously a global issue to be grappled with, but we have been working on climate resiliency with local municipalities for years. Rising seas, erosion, and flooding are very real possibilities on our shorelines in the not-too-distant future. But to fix the problem, we need to admit there is a problem.

Energy: Strongly tied to U.S. actions on climate change are our energy policies in general, which may have additional impacts on natural resources and air and water pollution. Here on the California coast in particular, we’ll be watching out for any policies or actions that may open up our lands, in particular those offshore, to additional oil drilling and fracking. We’ll also look out for actions on recently adopted or still in the works policies such as the Clean Power Plan and mercury standards that seek to tighten standards on a range of air and water pollutants. These obviously have enormous potential impacts on the health of our local waterways and neighborhoods.

Clean Water Act: Last year, the EPA issued the Clean Water Rule (“Waters of the U.S.” rule), which clarified the definition of waters that are protected by the Clean Water Act. Thankfully, this definition recognizes the interconnectedness of waterbodies, and the impact that upstream waterbodies can have on navigable waters, and thus formalized protections for precious water resources such as certain wetlands and tributaries that previously may have been subject to debate. The new administration has made it clear that this rule will be a prime target for elimination.

Funding: Although it may be difficult to abolish entire agencies or programs completely, the power of the purse is no joke. We will be watching to see how funding of agencies, research, and grant programs related to the environment changes under the new administration. Certainly, the billion-dollar restoration plan of the L.A. River put forth by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will now be viewed through a new prism, leaving lingering questions about how the long-gestating project will now move forward.

New regulations: While we’re lucky to live in a state that is pretty consistently a leader in the nation on environmental laws, we’ll be vigilant for any federal regulations put forward that may seek to preempt state laws. While this approach may be beneficial in some instances where the federal law is more protective or establishes consistency among states, we’ll be wary of any attempts to limit the protections we as a state can ensure for our treasured natural resources.

Infrastructure spending: Given the current degraded state of our infrastructure, Heal the Bay supports infrastructure spending and improvements. At the same time, we cannot set up a zero sum game between infrastructure and climate change as the new administration’s 100-day plan suggests. And infrastructure spending must be invested in projects that lead to more sustainable communities and incorporate best management practices in terms of energy and water use.

Heal the Bay was founded on the belief that, like the rights to free speech, equal treatment, to practice whatever religion you choose, and to love whomever you choose, we have a right to an environment that doesn’t pose a risk to our health and well-being. These rights and values are what make America great now! While we, as always, are rooting wholeheartedly for the success and forward progress of our nation, we believe that erosion of any of these rights is absolutely incompatible with any definition of success, and certainly any definition of progress.

Feeling like you want to take action in these uncertain times? We’ve got dozens of volunteer opportunities for you and your family.

June 14, 2016 — From melting glaciers to the rise in extreme weather events, global warming is already affecting our planet in a variety of ways. But according to a new study, not all U.S. cities are prepared to deal with its adverse impacts. Sabrina McCormick, professor at MPH@GW, the online Master of Public Health program offered through the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University, and her colleague Kathleen Carlson surveyed 65 local decision makers in six major U.S. municipalities to find out which ones are leading the way in climate change adaptation—and why.

What is climate change adaptation?

Climate change adaptation describes the ability of natural or human systems to adjust to the changing climate in order to lessen its harmful effects. This is not to be confused with mitigation, which refers to implementing strategies to remove or reduce the amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) released into the atmosphere. Although distinctly different, adaptation and mitigation are complementary of one another. When done in synergy, these activities can lead to cost-effective implementation of climate policies.

What did the study find?

McCormick discovered that Portland, Boston, and Los Angeles were best prepared for the realities of climate change—while Raleigh, Tucson, and Tampa trailed behind. The following social factors appeared to impact a city’s level of preparedness:

  • Swing factors, which include events within or characteristics of a city that can lead it toward or away from action. One example is political culture. McCormick found conservative regions to be less likely to support climate change adaptation measures. Extreme weather is another example. In a city like Tampa, events such as hurricanes are viewed as part of everyday life rather than a threat that must be addressed.
  • Inhibitors, which refer to climate change mindsets that may slow (but not necessarily stop) change. Many decision makers cited a lack of clear, trustworthy scientific information on the consequences of climate change as their reason for inaction.
  • Resource catalysts, which provide a strong rationale and therefore motivation for adaptation planning. They may include academic and public interest resources that offer a scientific or moral justification for change.

Not surprisingly, the study pointed to public engagement as a driving force for change. And nowhere is this more evident than in Los Angeles. Here are just a few examples of how L.A. nonprofits and residents are banding together to combat the climate crisis:

  • Heal the Bay collaborates with researchers and agencies to assess the impact of climate change on Southern California coastal environments and help local communities adapt to the new normal.
  • The Sierra Club Angeles Chapter engages its members and the public in a multitude of campaigns centered on air quality improvement, coastline preservation, and building sustainable communities.
  • Climate Cents actively mobilizes public support for L.A.-based environmental initiatives such as kelp forest restoration, urban farming, and tree planting.
  • Los Angeles Walks is a volunteer-run advocacy group focused on making L.A. more pedestrian-friendly and reducing GHG emissions through the development of safe walking environments.

As a heavily populated city that generated a total of 99.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2010 alone (about 21.7 percent of California’s GHG emissions), L.A. has a unique responsibility to confront the global warming issue head on. And its residents are doing just that. McCormick hopes the results of her study will inspire more American cities to take action. After all, adaptation measures are not something that can wait. “It’s not tomorrow,” she says. “It’s today.”

Guest Blogger Julie PotyrajJulie Potyraj is the community manager for MHA@GW and MPH@GW, both offered by the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University. For several years, she served as a community development specialist in Zambia coordinating youth empowerment programs and reproductive health education. She is currently an MPH@GW student focusing on global health and health communications.

Local shorelines already impacted by climate change are now bracing for El Niño. The picture may not be pretty, says Heal the Bay’s Dana Murray, but there are things we can do to prepare.

What will El Niño’s footprint be on our beaches this winter? No one can say for sure, but the expected heavy precipitation and storm surges in California this winter will certainly take their toll on our local shorelines. Couple that with already rising sea levels due to climate change and the outcome could be seriously destructive and dangerous for coastal life.

Based upon historic El Niño events like 1982-83 and 1997-98, much of Southern California’s beach sand may disappear, coastal bluffs will suffer serious erosion, and some homes and businesses will flood. The suite of impacts associated with both El Niño and climate change is also a serious stressor to ocean life.

It’s important to note that El Niño is not climate change. Rather, it’s a natural cycle on Earth that occurs every 7-10 years. What remains to be seen is if our coastal ecosystems can recover and survive climate change-intensified El Niño events.

This makes strong coastal and ocean policies even more important, and Heal the Bay staff are busy advocating for such management measures. By creating marine protected areas and reducing the ocean stressors that we can control, such as pollution, inappropriate coastal development and overfishing, we are helping to buffer coastal and ocean environments from harm associated with strong El Niño events.

The eastern tropical Pacific typically averages about 10°F cooler than the western Pacific, making it more susceptible to heat-induced temperature increases, as well as creating conditions ripe for global warming to usher in Godzilla El Niños.

Scientists predict that super or “Godzilla” El Niño events will double in frequency due to climate change. This is not to say that we will have more El Niños, but rather, the chances of having extreme El Niños doubles from one every 20 years in the previous century to one every 10 years in the 21st century.

Although ocean temperatures are the common measure to evaluate El Niño intensity, sea level heights also provide an important glimpse into the strength of an El Niño. In some areas of the Pacific, particularly along the eastern side, sea levels actually rise during an El Niño. Currents displace the water along the equator, and warmer waters expand, which results in higher sea levels in the eastern Pacific and lower levels in the western Pacific. It’s important to remember that a rise of just a few inches in sea-level height can contribute to El Niño impacts.

Marine Life Impacts

During an El Niño, marine life has to contend with stress due to extreme fluctuations in sea level, as well as warming ocean temperatures and ocean acidification due to climate change. In the tropical western Pacific, climate change will more than double the likelihood of extreme changes in sea levels that could harm coral reefs. Extreme sea level drops in the western Pacific will also last longer, putting coral under even more stress. During the 1997-98 El Niño, sea levels dropped up to a foot in the western Pacific, leaving coral reefs high and dry. 2015’s El Niño has already caused the sea level to drop seven inches in the western tropical Pacific Ocean.

Back in California, El Niño also quashes the usual upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich seawater along our coastline. The cold California current supports our oceanic food chain: from plankton and fish species, to kelp forests and marine mammals. Fish have responded to warming ocean temperatures this year by migrating north or out to sea in search of cooler waters. Consequently, sea lions have had to venture further from their young to look for those fish as their primary food source. This has had a cascading effect on California sea lion populations, leading to an unusual mortality event for sea lions this year. Following the warm ocean water, an influx of southern, more tropical marine life have moved up along California this year, such as whale sharks, pelagic red crabs, and hammerhead sharks.

Riding the warm ocean currents across the Pacific and Indian Oceans, the only sea snake that ventures completely out to sea has been spotted in Southern California waters and beaches as far north as Oxnard for the first time in 30 years. The Yellow-bellied Sea Snake has some of the most poisonous venom in the world, and is a descendant from Asian cobras and Australian tiger snakes. This sea snake is a harbinger of El Niño–it typically lives in warm tropical waters. The last time the yellow-bellied snake was spotted in California was in the early 1980’s during an El Niño. Scientists are calling for the public’s help to confirm occurrences of these sea snakes in California and your sighting could be published in scientific journals. A recent sighting took place in the Silver Strand beach area in Oxnard. As the yellow-bellied sea snake is highly venomous, the public should not handle it. Instead, take photos, note the exact location, and report any sightings in California to iNaturalist and Herp Mapper.

Shoreline Impacts

Storm Surge Beach HouseEl Niño-caused sea level rise, coupled with sea levels rising from ice sheet melt associated with climate change, is projected to lead to more coastal flooding, shrinking beaches, and shoreline erosion. This year’s El Niño has western U.S. cities planning for coastal flooding. Higher sea levels, high tides and storm surges that force waves well past their usual reach pose very real threats. And when these forces coincide, such as during an El Niño, significant inundation can lay siege to coastal communities, freshwater supplies, wastewater treatment plants, power plants, and other infrastructure — not to mention public health and the environment.

Locally we have several communities that are particularly susceptible to coastal flooding and erosion (photo on right shows home on Malibu beach). Venice Beach, San Pedro, and Wilmington are some of the most vulnerable local communities to flooding, according to a USC Sea Grant study examining sea level rise impacts for coastal communities in the City of Los Angeles.

Sea level rise in Los Angeles may reach 5.6 feet by 2100, which may be further exacerbated by El Niño storm events, high tides, and storm surge – especially when big wave events occur at or near seasonal peak high tides, or King Tides.

Some sandy beaches in Malibu are already eroding away with each wave that crashes on armored sea walls. Beach parking lots and playgrounds in Huntington Beach become inundated after a winter storm, as storm surges push seawater deeper into the built environment.

At Heal the Bay, we’re committed to advocating for environmentally sound climate change adaptation methods through participating in local stakeholder groups such as Adapt-LA, analyzing and commenting on proposed plans and policies, and educating the public about the coastal threats associated with climate change. We want to help everyday people understand how they can support sound solutions that protect our critical natural resources.

It’s imperative that coastal communities invest in environmentally sound adaptation solutions to be resilient in the face of climate change, especially during an El Niño year. The environmental, economic, and social impacts of sea level rise in California emphasize the importance of addressing and planning.

Preparing for El Niño and climate change requires time, money, and planning, but by investing in the long-term health of our coastal communities, we can foster resilience to coastal climate change. Protecting and restoring marine and natural coastal areas like wetlands, kelp forests, and sand dunes will leave both us and the environment better prepared and protected as we brace for the impact “Godzilla” El Niño and climate change traipsing down our beaches this winter.

Dana Murray, Heal the Bay’s senior coastal policy manager, reports on a promising new statewide policy to minimize the impacts of sea-level rise on coastal communities.

An incoming swell may excite a surfer, a rainstorm may offer an Angeleno drought relief, and extreme tides offer a tide-pooler opportunities for sea shore exploration. But pair those same events with rising sea levels due to climate change, and the outcome is destructive and dangerous. Beach sand disappears, coastal bluffs erode and fall into the sea, and homes and businesses are flooded.

These aren’t images from some doomsday movie, this is real life and happening now in some places along California’s coast. Higher sea levels, high tides and storm surges that force waves well past their usual reach pose very real threats. And when these forces coincide, significant inundation can lay siege to coastal communities, freshwater supplies, wastewater treatment plants, power plants, and other infrastructure… not to mention public health and the environment.

So, what should we do? How can we prepare for coastal disasters?

California’s Coastal Commission has developed one way to prepare California – by adopting the state’s first Sea Level Rise Policy Guidance. After years of development and refinements, the Coastal Commission recently voted unanimously to adopt California’s Sea Level Rise Policy. Intended to serve as a scientific and planning resource for a variety of audiences, the policy provides an overview of the best available science on sea-level rise for California and recommended methods for addressing it in coastal planning and regulatory actions.

Highlighted in Chapter 7 “Adaptation Strategies”, the policy lays out ways that we can prepare coastal communities by helping them take steps now to avoid detrimental impacts from sea-level rise. These include adaptation options such as wetland, dune, and beach restoration, as these habitats will help buffer communities from sea-level rise and storm surges while enhancing coastal resources.

Maximizing natural shoreline values and processes, while avoiding armoring our shoreline with a slew of sea walls, are goals outlined. Beach armoring, especially in the form of sea walls and rocky revetments, is known to increase wave reflection and result in the narrowing of beaches. Instead, communities can protect and restore critical habitats, such as wetlands and dunes, and plan out a buffer zone so that wetlands and dunes can migrate inland while providing inland infrastructure with natural shoreline protection.

The policy also includes options that change the way we look at building along our changing shorelines. We should prioritize overall sustainability and life of infrastructure, and identify places where development can retreat inland. As the sea seeps inland, sand is eroded from beaches and bluffs, and landowners and communities are faced with the decision whether to spend large amounts of money to build sea walls against a crashing sea, or step back from the shoreline. That can mean moving trails, buildings, or parking lots inland. Surfers Point in Ventura, for example, is beginning to retreat from the ocean.

Heal the Bay commends the Coastal Commission’s leadership on climate change adaptation. This policy gives clear guidance to local governments for measures they can take to protect against and prepare for sea-level rise.  It is imperative that coastal communities advance environmentally sound adaptation solutions to be resilient in the face of climate change. We hope this policy will lead to more environmentally sound, nature-based adaptation strategies.

The environmental, economic, and social impacts of sea-level rise in California underscore the importance of addressing and planning. To demonstrate the impacts of sea level rise, the policy highlights results from the Heberger et al. (2009) study that found that the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are vulnerable to significant flooding from sea-level rise. Given that these two ports handle about 50% of the containers shipped into the United States, the rise could disturb the efficiency of goods movement, resulting in serious economic implications for California and the U.S.

At the Coastal Commission hearing, some cities came out against the policy, hesitant to see the state adopt a policy that might not align with their cities’ current shoreline visions. But, thanks to the strong leadership and scientific understanding of commissioners that take the protection and stewardship of our coastal resources seriously, the policy was passed unanimously. Demonstrating national attention to California’s climate preparedness, a representative from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) testified at the hearing that the policy will also form the base from which other states will begin to plan for climate change along their shorelines.

Heal the Bay recognizes that preparing for climate change will require time, money, and planning. But  it’s an investment in the long term health of our coastal communities that we can’t afford to let slip away into the sea.

Staff scientist Dana Murray reports on a photo contest to crown the king of King Tides.

How can we get everyday people thinking about the impacts of climate change? How can we illustrate that we’re not talking about some far-off problem that we don’t have to solve for 20 years? As we’ve seen with super storms in recent times, perhaps we’re not that far off, but communicating the risks of sea level rise can still be a challenge. Impacts are often difficult to see or visualize, and with a plethora of scientific jargon, modeling predictions, and maps being thrown at us, it is often difficult to understand real-life impacts of climate change, and the slow-burn of rising sea levels.

One of the unique opportunities nature has provided us is through extreme “king” tides. These tides happen most drastically in the winter when the sun and moon align to exert the greatest gravitational pull on earth, and result in experiencing the most extreme high and low tides of the year. In California, experts say that the annual king tide today is what we can expect our daily high tide to look like in 35 years. Especially when paired with a winter storm, King Tides are a glimpse of how sea level rise will impact our communities.

To capitalize on these illustrative events, we’re calling for all photographers to get out and participate in digital storytelling by photo-documenting the impacts of these extreme high tides. The pictures you take could help communities understand flood risk and explore adaptation options. They also can help build a local catalogue of at-risk places and people.

There’s a great contest in Los Angeles you can enter your photographs of King Tides into, and win cool prizes through the Urban Tides Photo & Video Contest.

Go to the Urban Tides Photo & Video Contest webpage for more info from USC Sea Grant on King Tide documentation. Be sure to scroll down and check out the tide chart, photo tips, and most importantly the safety tips.

Additionally, the website provides lesson plan information for educators.

Urban Tides Photo & Video Contest

You know climate change is a global issue, right? But do you have any idea about what its specific impacts may be on the L.A. shoreline in the coming years? Are you curious how sea level rise may affect the Los Angeles coast? Is your favorite beach or neighborhood hangout subject to dangerous flooding?

Well, you can learn more by attending a workshop organized by Heal the Bay, the Venice Neighborhood Council, USC Sea Grant, and Los Angeles City Council District 11 to learn more about this important issue at our Venice Ocean Forum this Wednesday evening.

Venice, San Pedro, and Wilmington are some of the most vulnerable local communities to flooding, according to a recent USC Sea Grant study examining sea level rise impacts for coastal communities in the City of Los Angeles. Based on 100-year sea level rise projections, some studies suggest flooding throughout much of Venice.  Sea level rise in Los Angeles may reach 5.6 feet by 2100, which may be further exacerbated by high tides and storm surge – especially when big wave events occur at or near seasonal peak high tides, or King Tides.

 At the Venice Ocean Forum experts will discuss the risks associated with climate change in Venice, and ways that communities can work together to help adapt to impacts. We’ll also talk about how other communities in the greater L.A. area are preparing to meet the specific local challenges posed by global warming. The forum is open to the public. The meeting begins 6:30pm at Westminster Elementary and food will be provided. So please RSVP today.

Yes, global warming can be a difficult concept to visualize. Who has ever seen an ozone layer after all? But if you look at some of our local beaches, you can already witness the negative effects of climate change.

Some sandy beaches in Malibu are eroding away with each wave that crashes on armored sea walls. Beach parking lots and playgrounds in Huntington Beach become inundated after a winter storm, as storm surges push seawater deeper into the built environment.

Sea level rise is happening now. And it’s only going to get worse. California oceans are expected to rise as much as three feet over the next century, slightly above the global average. And when impacts collide — such as high “king” tides, heavy waves and storm surge — the resulting projected inundation could severely impact our daily lives. Freshwater supplies, wastewater treatment facilities, power plants, and other infrastructure, not to mention public health and the environment, could all be compromised.

The choices we make now on how to adapt to a rising sea will influence our changing shoreline in Los Angeles forever. Heal the Bay’s coastal scientists are working with our beach cities to prepare for coastal climate change by helping them amend their Local Coastal Plans with the California Coastal Commission.

Working together, our Science & Policy and Programs teams are reaching out to local communities to educate Angelenos about the simple steps they can take to adapt to climate change, such as capturing and reusing rainwater and planting drought-tolerant gardens.

As you head to the beach in 2014, hopefully you’ll find some comfort in knowing that Heal the Bay is working to protect this place of relaxation, fun, and respite from pollution. But we’ll also be working with coastal communities to prepare and protect our shorelines from the inexorable tide of sea level rise.

Want to contribute? Help us photograph the extremely high “king” tides. Join the California King Tides Initiative by posting your photos to Instagram with the tags @healthebay and #kingtides.

High Tide King Tides Seal Beach California