Though many who live around the San Francisco Bay don’t yet know it, Silicon Valley and Bay Area businesses face a new threat to their well-being and continued growth.
Ironically for drought-stricken California, the threat comes not from an economic bubble or market crash, but from the growing potential of a major flood event that could cause the bay to jump its boundaries.
How could this happen?
Start with the fact that dozens of tech campuses, including Cisco, Oracle, Facebook, and Google (as well as other major employers and residential communities), are in low-lying areas right along the bay shoreline. Add in a dangerous mix of neglected shoreline infrastructure, as well as rising sea levels and more frequent storm events brought about by climate change, and you get a dangerous combination.
Historically, California — and especially the Bay Area — is no stranger to flooding, although it’s sporadic and usually localised. A storm last March sent waters into low-lying areas of San Jose and other recent storms have flooded Highway 101, the major traffic artery below San Francisco.
In the historical record, there have also been huge storms, like one that bankrupted California in 1862. Northern California is overdue for this kind of extreme storm, and El Niño is right around the corner.
Sean Randolph, senior director for the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, warns that a major storm would put tremendous strain on the infrastructure designed to keep water from flooding low-lying communities and businesses.
“A lot of the infrastructure along our shoreline is very old,” says Randolph, whose organisation released a report earlier this year outlining the effects of a major storm on the region. “It needs to be upgraded. It needs to be replaced.”
What’s at stake
Silicon Valley businesses are not the only ones at risk if a storm were to overtake our ageing shoreline infrastructure and cause a major flood. Thousands of homes in communities like Alviso and East Palo Alto would suffer damage from flooding.
“We estimated that a major storm in the Bay Area could cost as much as $US10.4 billion,” says Randolph. “Most of that is damage to buildings, damage to the contents of those buildings, loss of electrical power, loss of access to air transport.”
Even residents who live up in the hills would not be insulated. Much of the critical infrastructure that everyone relies on, such as airports, hospitals, and water treatment plants, is in the flood-risk zone.
What can the Bay Area do?
There are simple, low-cost solutions that scientists and experts agree will protect Bay Area communities:
- Building and updating the levees and outdated infrastructure.
- Restoring wetlands that act as natural flood protectors.
- Bolstering and supporting federal, state, and local efforts to create and restore flood-control infrastructure.
The good news is that defending the region against Bay flooding by restoring natural wetlands will also improve bay water quality and preserve it for decades to come.
This isn’t a moonshot solution. It’s doable. It’s within our means. All it takes is for us to act.
Watch this film for more information:
Join the growing coalition in support of protecting the bay for generations to come.
This post is sponsored by Our Bay on the Brink.
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