Sink or swim - Page 3

For two decades, local climate change experts have been warning what rising sea levels would mean for the Bay Area. So why doesn't San Francisco even have a flood map?

The Army Corps of Engineers does."

Army Corps spokesperson Maria Or confirmed that her agency collects data at different times of the year — data showing the climate has been changing and helping forecast what those changes will mean.

"But we can't base maps on pure speculation," Or told us. "We continuously look at new data and reanalyze the situation based on that new information. The more relevant question is how often a FEMA map is updated."

Mansell said it takes FEMA one to two years to create a flood map, using computer models, precipitation and tidal patterns, rivers and stream flows — and tracking how much concrete is laid down in an area and how much is built in a floodplain.

"Areas are mapped and remapped and show three levels of risk — low, moderate, and high risk," he said. Based on these ratings, FEMA reviews flood insurance premiums once a year.

But with FEMA the main hope of covering sea rise–related flood damage, experts such as Dr. Peter Gleick of the Oakland-based Pacific Research Institute join the BCDC's Travis in accusing FEMA of having "failed miserably in integrating climate change into its planning."

"BCDC included climate change in their maps. FEMA did not. Why aren't there flood maps everywhere around the country that integrate climate change?" asked Gleick, who produced a map 17 years ago showing the impact of a one-meter sea level rise on the bay.

"It's a little depressing to have been working for two decades on this," Gleick conceded. "I'm glad people are starting to pay more attention and accept that sea level is going up, because the impacts will depend on how we react and how quickly, but we're decades too late to prevent bad things from happening."

Outraged by President George W. Bush's we-can't-afford-to-unilaterally-cut-greenhouse-gases argument, Gleick said, "They're putting short-term economic gain ahead of long-term survival." But he praised California for establishing a cap to reduce the state's greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

In light of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that suggests a 10- to 20-foot sea level increase in the next 1,000 years, Gleick observed, "That means hundreds and millions of people will be potential refugees. So we better reduce our greenhouse gases starting now. We can't prevent some change, but we hope to prevent disastrous sea level change."

Gleick said he's worried that we won't protect low-income areas or move fast enough to prevent damage, a shortcoming that will also have devastating environmental impacts.

"Marshes and wetlands have no place to retreat, since the areas around them are already built up," he explained. "Bay Area communities should make parks, bay and coastal trails, and wetlands bigger, so they'll have greater protection 50 years from now. And if you're developing a building that's supposed to last for 50 years, you need to design it now for the changes that are to come." *