Could paving over the South Bay shoreline in Newark with luxury housing lead to more flooding across the Bay in Redwood City and as far away as Sonoma County? Possibly, suggests a new study from Stanford University’s Natural Capital Project, which examines the impacts of building seawalls, levees, or removing flood accommodation space in one region of the Bay on flood risk and associated economic costs in other Bay Area communities.
San Francisco Bay isn’t just one big living ecosystem- it’s an enormous body of water, with every section of the Bay hydrologically connected and influenced by the others. As sea levels rise, Stanford’s study points out that building new flood walls to protect development (existing and proposed) from sea level rise can significantly alter where water can move — and could result in flooding not only in adjacent communities, but all the way across the Bay.
The study predicts hypothetically that if a flood wall were built across the Newark section within the Mowry Operational Landscape Unit (OLU) of the shoreline, it would lead to increased flooding throughout the Bay, with as many as 14 different sections of San Francisco Bay experiencing increased flooding, with a price tag of $194 million in increased flooding damages. (See box for a list of impacted areas)
However, the study also points out that in strategic locations, if we can allow Bay waters to move inland, we can actually minimize flooding around the rest of the Bay as sea levels rise. Utilizing what has been referred to as “nature-based solutions” to sea level rise, such as providing accommodation space for flood waters/rising sea levels and for wetland migration and restoration, as over a dozen organizations have proposed for Newark Area 4, can result in reduced flood risk for the immediate community and other regions of the Bay. The study specifically highlights the Mowry OLU in which Area 4 is located as a key location for allowing Bay waters to move inland, saying, “strategic flooding in these areas could provide substantial regional benefits,” and that the idea of walling off this section of the shoreline (such as with new development) is “difficult to justify from a regional economic perspective.”
In addition to providing flood protection for Newark and throughout the Bay, allowing the Bay waters to move inland in Newark Area 4 would provide a host of other benefits to the Bay and to the local community. Anne Guerry, lead scientist at the Stanford Natural Capital Project and senior author of the report, told the San Mateo Daily Journal that, “nature-based solutions can also provide climate mitigation through carbon sequestration. They can provide habitat for wildlife, for birds that people like to watch, nursery habitat for fish and things that people care about. And not to mention they can provide recreational opportunities.”
The Stanford study is yet another vivid illustration of what we have known for decades: What happens in one part of the Bay, impacts the Bay as a whole. Or said another way, what happens in Newark doesn’t stay in Newark. When it comes to sea level rise, we are all in it together– and the region truly has a stake in the outcome of our attempts to protect Newark’s shoreline from being filled and paved over with a 469-unit development located in a FEMA floodplain.
If you haven’t yet, please take a moment to sign our petition to Save Newark Wetlands — following the guidance of numerous scientists, land managers, climate adaptation experts and conservation organizations to protect, restore and include Newark Area 4 in the Don Edwards SF Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
Sections of SF Bay Anticipated to Experience Increased Flooding as a Result of New Flood Wall Construction in the Newark Area (those impacted the greatest in bold):
- OLU 5 – Novato
- OLU 6 – Petaluma
- OLU 7 – Napa-Sonoma (Vallejo, Napa, Sonoma)
- OLU 9 – Suisun (Suisun City, Fairfield)
- OLU 10 – Montezuma
- OLU 18 – San Leandro (Oakland, Alameda, Oakland Airport)
- OLU 19 – San Lorenzo (San Leandro, San Lorenzo, Hayward)
- OLU 20 – Alameda Creek (Hayward, Union City, Fremont)
- OLU 22 – Santa Clara Valley (Milpitas, San Jose, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale)
- OLU 23 – Stevens (Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Palo Alto)
- OLU 24 – San Francisquito (East Palo Alto)
- OLU 25 – Belmont-Redwood (Menlo Park, Redwood City, Belmont, Foster City)
- OLU 26 – San Mateo (Belmont, Foster City, San Mateo)
- OLU 27 – Colma-San Bruno (Burlingame, San Bruno, SFO, South SF)
(OLU refers to Operational Landscape Unit, or section of the Bay, as introduced by the SF Estuary Institute in the SF Bay Shoreline Adaptation Atlas, now frequently used by Bay Area sea level rise planners)