Marin County studies impact of rising sea level

SAN RAFAEL (KTVU) -- A new report presented to the Marin County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday is raising alarms about how rising sea levels will affect the county in the not too distant future.

The study examined the effects of rising sea levels in the short, mid- and long-terms with parts of Marin County at risk from water from the bay and ocean. Several areas in Marin have flooded for decades but the county is being warned that the scenario unfolding is a very real emergency that could drastically alter the quality of life in the county.

Marin County officials are expected to hold three public information meetings this month to allow for public input on the environmental impact study.

The study spans hundreds of pages that detail what scientists, engineers and planners see as Marin's more aquatic future. The report includes color coded maps that detail what areas are likely to flood in the next few years as well as future projections of what will happen at the end of the century when water is expected to be five feet higher than current levels.

"What adaptation options do we really want to consider, in what locations in the county and what's best for our future?" asked Marin County Supervisor Kate Sears.

"You look at where we've built our cities and towns (and) you look at where our infrastructure is," said Chris Choo, a Marin County Public Works Planner. "There's quite a bit there by the shoreline."

Officials said rising waters could include changes to -- or the loss of -- Sausalito's world famous waterfront.

Rising sea levels could take a huge toll on city, county and state parks, including the Mill Valley/Sausalito path, Bothin Marsh, McGuinness Marsh, McGuinness Park and Bolinas Lagoon.

"We have incredible coastal resources (including) trails (and) marshes that are home to endangered species," said Max Korten, director of the county's parks. "And if we don't do anything about sea level rise, those will turn into bathtubs. There will be no marsh there. There will be just a hardened shoreline."

Restoration of the bay's traditional, natural wetlands presents real solutions.

"At the same time that we're protecting species and habitats, we're also using those habitats to help protect communities and infrastructure from the impacts of climate change," said Kelly Malinowski, who works with the California State Coastal Conservancy, which funded the study.

The computer models that illustrate the rising sea levels lack the ability to show the effects of flooded and backed up underground drains and sewers as well as storm runoff.

That could actually hasten sea level rise in places that have yet to flood, experts say.

"A lot of those locations flood because of a lot of underground pipes," Choo said.

By KTVU reporter Tom Vacar.