SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) — It’s a multi-billion dollar problem, it’s sure to happen, it’ll affect almost everyone in the Bay Area, and nobody is in charge of planning for it.

We’re talking about rising Bay levels. The Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), using a midrange approach to various rising sea-level scenarios, figures the Bay will be six inches higher by 2015, a foot higher by 2050, and 3 feet higher by 2100. Those are before you add in the effect of so-called “king tides”, El Nino effects, or storm surges.

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Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center

Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center (Stan Bunger/CBS)

These signs at the Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center give a feel for what those future levels will look like.

Lefty O'Doul Bridge (CBS)

Lefty O’Doul Bridge (CBS)

The Lefty O’Doul Bridge near San Francisco’s AT&T Park is an example of bayside infrastructure that will have to be addressed in an era of higher Bay levels. This photo was taken at a normal high tide. During “king tide” events, the bottom of the bridge is immersed in Bay waters. It will only get worse in the future.

BCDC Executive Director Larry Goldzband says his agency is trying to talk up the issue and convince the dozens of cities, counties, special districts and private entities touching the Bay to work together on solutions. “You can’t just protect your shoreline,” Goldzband says, “without thinking about the place next door or five miles away.”

Hayward marshland (CBS)

Hayward marshland (CBS)

Wetlands like the ones seen here in Hayward may prove to be among the Bay Area’s most valuable resources. They provide ample space for so-called “horizontal levees”, which would gently slope into the Bay. This Hayward marsh may also be the destination for millions of gallons of treated wastewater from several East Bay sanitary districts. That water is now discharged in the middle of the Bay but engineers are considering a system that would disperse it across brackish marshlands that would serve as a barrier against waves or storm surges.

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No one has yet produced an estimate of what it’ll cost to adapt to a rising Bay, nor how the adaptations would be funded. But everyone who’s looked at the issue agrees: it’s a real disaster in the making. This map allows you to see how the Bay Area will look under various Bay-rise scenarios, assuming nothing is done. As BCDC’s Goldzband says, “doing nothing is not an option.”

Other resources:

Urban Land Institute reports on rising Bay levels

Adapting to Rising Tides (ART) program

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