Imperial Beach CA backs off from “managed retreat” from the ocean that was their plan for sea level rise response

Sea level rise is a consequence of climate change that is already hitting coastal towns all around the world. Fifteen years or so ago I recall reading a news report about the disappearance of a few whole islands in the Sunderban Islands in Bangaladesh, and closer to us in the USA towns along the Florida coast like Miami Beach are frequently flooded at high tide. The video report attached here concerns Imperial Beach California, the flooding occurring every time there’s an extreme high tide, and an uproar over the city’s plan for a “managed retreat”.

This post is inspired by a Vice News news report embedded below.

Imperial Beach is surrounded by military bases, primarily naval bases, and has within its borders a naval air station. Therefore we can expect a lot of military personnel to be living in Imperial Beach who would be triggered by the word “retreat”. One of the folks interviewed in the Vice News video embedded below, who described himself as a former Marine, explicitly said “we do not retreat”.

Dude, you’re talking about fighting against the ocean? You simply cannot win such a battle. The ocean will relentlessly beat away at the foundation of your house until it washes away.

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But we’re here to summarize the video.

Climate Change threatening to flood Imperial Beach California

The city of Imperial Beach (Google Maps satellite view) is south of San Diego, next to the border with Mexico. To the immediate north is the peninsula containing Coronado, and there is a ton of Navy and Marine bases throughout the San Diego area. The important aspect to this story is that Imperial Beach has a long coast-line, including one section that’s a narrow piece of habitable land wedged between the ocean and some marsh-land.

The terrain reminds me of the barrier islands my family vacationed on in New Jersey, Virginia and North Carolina when we lived on the east coast many years ago. This sort of terrain is always barely hanging on, because it’s essentially a sand bar that collected enough solidity that humans decided it would be a good place to live. I know from having been exposed to the history of Hatteras Island that a strong storm, like a hurricane, can drastically change such terrain.

What’s happening today – according to this video – is that at least twice a year an “extreme high tide” event causes the ocean to flood the city streets. The city puts up a few “Flooded” signs, and uses a backhoe to move the sand back onto the beach. The city also pours new sand on the beach regularly in order to protect the coast-line, and I see from the Google Maps satellite view (link above) that there’s a sort of seawall around the houses.

However the Vice News video embedded below shows ocean waves washing over the top of those seawall-like barriers and into the back yard of houses along the beach. Clearly they aren’t providing much protection.

Getting back to the former Marine dude. When they interviewed him, he pointed to the nearby street that had been flooded by the high tide. He said that piece of ground routinely gets water, but it dries out quickly, and that there’s nothing new going on.

He was first seen in the video confronting a city council-member whose purpose in the video was describing the city’s plan. Imperial Beach, like all other coastal cities in California, is required by the state to come up with plans to address climate change and sea level rise. One version of their draft plan described a kind of “managed retreat” from the ocean. Namely the city would recognize when an area of the city had become too damaged to continue living there, and would remove all city infrastructure and services, and seize the land. Seemingly that plan caused an uproar, and the report says the city has backed off from that plan and instead is looking to continue mitigation efforts like putting sand on the beach.

Pissing into the wind, or, uh, the ocean

Humans have a way of sticking to plans that are completely futile.

In the Philly Voice an article says Ocean City New Jersey property values have plunged by a half billion dollars because of sea level rise.

Science Daily has news about a research tool tracking sea level rise around the country, that is showing strong sea level rise across the board. For the tool go to https://www.vims.edu/research/products/slrc/index.php

Popular Mechanics reports that the Marshall Islands, because of sea level rise, wants to “raise the land”.

Charleston, SC, is developing a plan to deal with sea level rise.

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Property values are being lost in Delaware and Maryland, due to sea level rise.

The Guardian (London) notes that Florida is drowning, that is coastal cities like Miami Beach are routinely flooding, yet new Condo buildings are being built, and asks whether humans can’t see the writing on the wall.

Those are just a few random news articles from the last two weeks as found on Google News. There are dozens more articles like this, because the problem is occurring along every shoreline.

The problem is not just the inch-by-inch slow creep of sea level rise, but a ticking time bomb in the Antarctic. Namely several land-bound glaciers in the Antarctic have been identified as being near the tipping point to collapse into the ocean, or are already past the tipping point. It’s thought that these glaciers together will cause 20 feet of sea level rise – that’s about 7 meters – within a few dozen years.

Think of all the airports, and bridges, and sea-front cities, and houses, and on and on that are nestled neatly along the coast because it is so beautiful along the ocean. Anything at less than 20 feet altitude is subject to being flooded out in the coming years.

That little community of Imperial Beach California shown in this video – they’ll be gone. As will, for that matter, the majority of the naval base infrastructure in the San Diego area.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

3 Comments

  1. Sure, ocean levels are rising, but what does that have to do with transportation and gas v electric vehicles? Oh, right. Okay, carry on.

    • Climate change is a consequence of the prevailing gasoline-based system, and rising ocean levels are a consequence of climate change. Hence this is about documenting the unacknowledged cost of gasoline-based vehicles. I suppose I coulda put in a paragraph to that point.

  2. I have 100% confidence the readership is painfully aware of the connection. But hey, even for those who believe that climate change is not man-made — and I’ll give them a minute to undo the pretzel they’ve tied themselves into — the article is extremely informative.

    But relevant to the attitude of the Marine vis-a-vis the armed forces: sure, some of it is trying to burn through all that congressional expenditure, but actually the armed forces recognizes the benefit of self-reliant renewable energy, and becoming more energy-efficient, and putting research money toward that goal. Also, the armed forces recognizes the cost of defending our dependence on foreign oil. Lastly, the armed forces (or somesuch agency) has written about the upheaval that will be caused by climate change and the risks to national security of mass migration.

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