Sunday, May 20, 2018

Dammit, Do Something. America's Sea Level Rise Whinge.

It's hard to feel too much sympathy for people whose main concern is their multi-million dollar beachfront home. Yet, all along the American coastline, you can hear them grumble and grouse.

News reports tend to focus on America's southeast, especially Florida, mainly from Miami and points south. This one is a story of the beach colony at Del Mar, California. It concerns Herb and Janet Montgomery and their $3+million beach house.

The Montgomerys and their neighbours are upset that their municipality's sea level rise plan includes an option - retreat from the sea.

But considering a strategy that allows for the eventual removal of threatened structures, even as a last resort, would be tantamount to financial ruin for him and other property owners in the small, wealthy coastal city. 
“It won’t work for Del Mar,” Montgomery said.

The mere mention of the strategy known as “planned retreat” in the city’s planning documents will “put a cloud of doubt over the future” and cause property values to plummet, he said last week. Beachfont homes in Del Mar typically list for more than $5 million, and a new blufftop mansion on Stratford Court sold for $21.5 million last year. 
Current owners would be reluctant to invest in improving and maintaining their homes, Mongomery said, and banks would be unlikely to loan money to buy or improve homes that the city has acknowledged could be removed or destroyed.
Many of the city’s residents have fought long and hard against including planned retreat as part of their strategy. They say seawalls, sand retention and beach replenishment are better ways to preserve their coastal homes, and that their property values would plummet if they acknowledge that someday their property could be inundated by the sea. 
However, the California Coastal Commission requires all coastal cities to have a sea-rise adaptation plan, and to include planned retreat as part of their strategy. 
Failure to comply could result in the Coastal Commission refusing to certify the city’s plan, thus robbing Del Mar of the authority to approve permits for developments such as seawalls, homes, businesses, roads and other structures. Instead, that authority would fall to the Coastal Commission.
Socialism - For the Rich.

“We may see five feet of sea-level rise earlier than previously thought,” states a letter dated April 16 to Del Mar Mayor Dwight Worden from Coastal Commission program manager Garbriel Buhr. 
The California Ocean Protection Council adopted statewide guidance in March that recommends planning for a 7.1-foot sea-level rise by 2100 for the Del Mar area, the letter states. Seas could rise as much as 10 feet by 2100 if the polar ice sheets melt significantly. And by most accounts, the water will continue to rise for centuries. 
Typically, the retreat strategy is used with other planning techniques such as identifying high-risk areas, regulating types of structures, and instituting buy-back programs or financial aid for relocation.

The State as Indemnitor
Montgomery said cities around the world have found ways to hold back the sea. 
“Look at Holland,” he said. “They have been below sea level almost forever, and they are dealing with it.” 
Montgomery said if the state forces the city to include a retreat policy, “They better come along with a big heavy bucket of money. People should be remunerated for the investments they made.”
This is going to become one of the great challenges of climate change and not just in swank coastal communities. Sea level rise, sustained and cyclical floods and droughts, severe storm events of increasing frequency, duration and severity. the broken hydrologic cycle and disruptions to fresh water supply. That's a pretty tall shopping list for governments in this era of "everyday low taxes." State and municipal governments are often tapped out from decades of catering to miserly residents. Those governments will have to struggle just to replace and maintain essential public infrastructure.

There is going to be no free lunch. The money to do that doesn't exist. Ordinary folks, living well back from the sea, probably aren't going to be okay with the idea of picking up this sort of tab.

And somebody needs to tell Herb Montgomery that Holland has faced reality and is retreating from the rising sea.

Whether it's Del Mar, California, or the Florida Keys or the Jersey Shore or beachfront homes in the Maritimes or Vancouver's toney West Point Grey there are a lot of affluent people who are going to have to realize not all investments pay off.


Toby said...

Most of Florida has a particular problem: it is a very large sandbar with a swamp in the middle. The high ground is close to the shore line. Moving uphill is not an option because they are already uphill. (Is Disney World's Space Mountain ride the highest land in Florida?) A lot of Floridians will have to learn to live on the water or move out of State.

Troy said...

These millionaires can probably afford to move their homes back from the sea in anticipation of rising tides.

That argument they're making about the Netherlands doesn't make too much sense. There is land there that's been speculated for hundreds of years to have been formerly part of Europe: Doggerland. It could be seen with the eye. It was cheap and easy to reclaim. The higher the waters, the more to hold back. It gets more and more expensive to hold the waters back.

What's interesting about Doggerland is it shows how we'll probably lose land to the ocean. It won't happen gradually, but all at once. That's probably due to how tidal forces work. The Sun has major tidal forces, but not as much as the Moon. But then there are masses on Earth that have tidal forces too: land... and glaciers. The less glaciers effect the tides (because there's less and less of those), the more the land then has an effect.

The moment a major piece of the Greenland glaciers falls into the ocean, North Europe and the West Coast of North America will know right away, because a mega-tsunami will hit those coasts. And half that water probably doesn't go out. The other half goes out, and adds to sea level rise in general.

Toby said...

The land under most of Holland is fairly solid. The land under Florida is sand which will wash out.

The Mound of Sound said...

As I understand it, Toby, much of Florida has a base of permeable limestone. The porous stone allows rising waters to reach the surface regardless of sea walls and other fortifications. That's why Miami floods through its storm sewers.

Retreat isn't an option for most of these vulnerable areas but there is talk about raising existing homes to sit atop a stilt foundation. That's also a planning option being considered in Richmond, BC.

The Mound of Sound said...

From what I've seen, Troy, retreat isn't an option in many of California's waterfront areas. The area behind is already settled or in use for the Pacific Coast Highway.

In 2013, Vanity Fair published a photo-essay of the plight facing the swank parts of Malibu and Nantucket.

Remember this is happening today and we've got another 3+ feet, possibly far more, of sea level rise coming this century. Seawater causes enormous havoc from contamination of freshwater resources to corroding household wiring.

I read an article about restoration at a repeatedly hit house on the Jersey shore. It began by removing all the drywall and all the wiring. Then the entire interior of the house was flushed with freshwater three times. Then big industrial dryers were brought in. New wiring was installed. New drywall. New windows and roof. Redecoration. Voila. How many times can anyone afford to do that? How many times can governments provide disaster relief? If a house is worth 2 million but government has to pay 6 million in repeated disaster relief benefits, how long can that continue? When does government's responsibility to the general public to say "no more" finally kick in?

Lorne said...

Your first says it all, Mound. it is indeed hard to feel for them, especially given that people in many other parts of the world will be looking at death/homelessness, not a mere loss of property values.

Toby said...

Most construction in North America was built under permit issued by local government. My house, your house, those multi million $$$ beachfront houses in Florida, all built with permits. At what point is the permit issuer responsible for the decision to allow construction in potential flood zones?

Jay Farquharson said...

"There is going to be no free lunch."

Millionaires have been riding a free lunch for decades on beach front property in the US,

The Mound of Sound said...

Toby, I don't think a permit doubles as a lasting indemnity. I suppose it could lead to some contributory liability, if the danger was logically foreseeable, but that can't take the property owner entirely off the hook.

The duty of care issue is moderated by the question of standard of care, i.e. what would a reasonably competent municipal authority have been expected to know or understand when that permit was issued. There's no standard of perfection - ever, anywhere. No one can be expected to have prescient skills.

Here's an example. When I began this blog the scientific consensus was that, unless governments promptly and sharply curbed GHG emissions, certain events might possibly occur by 2100. A decade later and it turned out that early consensus was out by 80 years in some cases. My point is that the standard to which one could be held today is vastly higher than the standard applicable to just ten years ago.

Calgary allowed riverbank development on the basis of a "once a century" flood scenario. What had been once every hundred years has now become once every five to ten years.

The hydrologic cycle is now broken or, at least, moved to a new dynamic. This creates various "new normals" in almost every corner of the world.

At some point this problem is going to become so pervasive that we're just going to have to say, "sorry, sucks to be you."

Anonymous said...

From what is said in this blog...can Canada be included in this equation? Where in the country would that be?

The Mound of Sound said...

The concluding sentence addresses your remarks, Anon. Always best to read the whole piece.