Author: Paul

The Central Coast is at Risk

The Central Coast is at Risk

Building with nature: Can reviving a marsh save this California town from sea level rise? (Image: James MacKenzie/Flickr)

When the first residents settled the coast of California nearly five centuries ago, they built their homes right on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, on the shores of what was then a huge salt marsh called Mono Lake. Today, this marsh is being cut down and drained by developers.

On a clear day, it’s worth taking the short trip across the marsh to watch the waves slam into the shoreline and disappear. For now, the marsh is used by the local fishing boats and tourists to view wildlife and for hiking. But the marsh is disappearing: In the 1980s, it was drained to create a parking lot for an oil pipeline that would eventually cost the region roughly $50 million. When the federal government issued a permit for a different pipeline, the marsh was flooded and destroyed.

It’s not just Mono Lake that is at stake. The entire Central Coast, with its temperate climate, is at risk. “This is really a massive regional problem for the future of California,” says Jeremy Rifkin, the director of the Center for the Next Generation. The project, he says, “reaches far beyond Mono Lake, to the entire Central and South Coast.”

The Central Coast has more than 5,000 miles of coastline, but this part of the coast is particularly vulnerable because of its geography. “The Central Coast is on the front lines of sea level rise because of the sheer size of the delta,” says Rifkin. The delta is the largest marine ecosystem in the world, holding back all of California’s fresh water. Rifkin says that if the delta loses more than 25 percent of its surface area by 2075, it could trigger a “waterfall” that would cause the water over the delta to pour out, flooding coastal communities. This would “change the coastline, destroy cities that have settled in the delta and would have a dramatic impact on California,” he says.


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