Rising Waters

Del Monte Beach will likely be transformed as a changing climate is projected to raise the sea level in Monterey Bay by 5 feet by 2100.

Imagine Del Monte Avenue in Monterey raised 20 feet in the air, with water from the Monterey Bay flowing underneath, connecting to what is now Lake El Estero. Imagine high tides flooding Cannery Row, washing away business and decades of development. Under a mandate from the California Coastal Commission, the city of Monterey is imagining those scenarios and is developing a plan to deal with 5 feet of sea level rise by 2100.

“We are going to have to adapt to some pretty significant changes caused by the ocean,” David Revell, a scientist who studied the effects of rising sea levels on both cities and ecosystems, told the Monterey City Council on June 21. “This will be expensive.”

While ocean level rises by the end of the century might seem like another generation’s problem, measures to protect the city’s waterfront could get underway in the next decade. Short-term efforts include beach nourishment and the possible creation of artificial reefs and barriers.

“The threat of climate change is very real and we have to start planning for it now,” says Monterey City Councilmember Alan Haffa. “It would be a great benefit if the Cemex plant stopped taking sand now.”

The Beach House on the waterfront likely won’t make it through the century.

While looking ahead to the severe impacts on Monterey of a rising ocean, Haffa sees closing the Cemex sand mine in Marina – which has been directly linked to the southern Monterey Bay coastline having the highest level of beach erosion in the state – as the first step toward mitigation. The Coastal Commission is currently in negotiations with Cemex about closing the mine.

In an update to Monterey’s Local Coastal Program prepared by Revell, three sections of Monterey’s waterfront are designated as areas with a high level of vulnerability: Del Monte Beach, the waterfront (from the Coast Guard Pier to Fisherman’s Wharf) and Cannery Row.

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With the ocean expected to rise 2 feet by 2050 – accelerating to 5 feet by 2100 – the city’s plan will be a balance of protecting sensitive areas like Del Monte Beach by creating new infrastructure; accommodating higher waters by elevating buildings or creating movable foundations; and retreating from some areas to let nature run its course.

The Monterey Bay Kayak buildings and the Beach House on the waterfront likely won’t make it through the century, Revell told City Council, and sea walls and artificial reefs will likely be necessary to protect Cannery Row.

Another impact of rising seas is on the city’s sewer system. If costly renovations aren’t made, flooding would likely cause wastewater to flow into Monterey Bay.

Adaptation projects don’t yet have a price tag, but will likely come from a mix of private, city, state and federal funds.

A final report on the Local Coastal Program will come to the City Council next spring for adoption. The plan, including Revell’s work as a consultant, is being financed by a $250,000 grant from the Coastal Commision and Ocean Protection Council.

“We’d be dealing with sea level rise for the next few thousand years even if we stop burning fossil fuels today,” Revell told council about the magnitude of the issue. “It’s not going to stop at 5 feet.”

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