A recent report suggests that sea level rise driven by climate change will swamp coastline wetlands of California in less than a century, erasing thousands of acres of marshes that support a wide range of wildlife — and those creatures have, essentially, no place to go.
This news comes on top of another study indicating the recent pattern of drought followed by flooding may only get worse for California residents.
We used the word “may” because despite overwhelming evidence that our planet is warming, drastically changing global and local weather patterns, no one can say for certain what all the effects of those changes will be.
Climate scientists even have a name for California’s dry-to-wet-and-back cycle — whiplash events. And it often seems that Central Coast residents are caught in the snap of that whiplash.
Last summer brought raging infernos to our doorsteps. Winter brought downpours — rain water that raced from higher ground toward the ocean, taking parts of the South Coast with it.
The aforementioned study points out that in a typical 100-year period, California experiences four whiplash events. But as the planet warms and weather patterns change, scientists predict occurrence of such events will double over the next century.
The UCLA study also predicts Southern California will experience the most dramatic changes, which is not good news for Central Coast residents, who live on the cusp of that region.
The study references the infamous 1862 flood that killed thousands and swamped much of the Central Valley. If the same sort of event occurred today, many thousands more would die, and the economic hit on agriculture would be devastating.
The economic impacts of climate change are very concerning. As it is now, agriculture represents about a third of California’s gross domestic product, and this state has the world’s fifth-largest economy. A whiplash event of the magnitude of the 1862 occurrence would have worldwide consequences.
That California will have wet and dry spells is certainly not ground-breaking news. Our history is replete with long droughts, catastrophic wildfire seasons and winter deluges.
What is worrisome is the fact that California’s policy makers aren’t really talking about a strategy for coping with a future that may be dramatically different than what we have today.
And that is especially true when it concerns the wet years. Drought episodes have, in many cases, brought out the best in strategic planning — with an occasional foray into resorting to wishing for rain miracles — which, through conservation measures, has maintained a reasonably reliable source of water to maintain day-to-day living.
What concerns us is the lack of planning for exceptionally intense rainy seasons, when literally years’ worth of water is allowed to escape to the ocean. And let’s face it, folks, the Pacific really doesn’t need more water.
But people living and working here on the Central Coast could sure use some of that runoff after a couple or more years of drought. Our local reservoirs have proven themselves barely adequate to the task of catching and retaining enough rain water to sustain us through a drought episode lasting more than a few years — and that’s what climate experts says may be coming, droughts that could last decades or longer.
In the absence of any coordinated effort to remove salt from sea water, this region’s policy makers must start talking about and planning to capture and store what rain Mother Nature does send our way.
Perhaps the solution could be found in more and/or larger reservoirs, maybe even going under ground. Any ideas?