New sea level rise science guidance now available for cities

Jun 12, 2024

By Melissa Sparks-Kranz, legislative affairs lobbyist (environmental quality)

The Ocean Protection Council (OPC) released a final version of its Sea Level Rise Guidance last week. The update includes changes requested by Cal Cities clarifying that cities can disclose sea level rise information and incorporate it into local planning efforts. However, the report remains deeply uncertain about what the climate could look like 100 years from now.

OPC last published its sea level rise guidance in 2018. The new version includes sea level rise projections through 2150. The state, tribal, and local entities can use the report for coastal adaptation projects, resilience planning, and funding investments.

The Cal Cities Coastal Cities Group engaged OPC during the public comment period and provided written comments. Cal Cities and the California State Association of Counties urged the agency to better recognize local planning and adaptation efforts as integral to addressing sea level rise.  

At a June 4 meeting, Cal Cities noted that the guidance would help local governments better understand sea level rise scenarios and their possible impacts. Good data and strong guidance can help cities and counties plan, design, and implement appropriate responses — including adaptation pathways should extreme, unlikely scenarios occur. But local governments must retain their ability to consider adaptive pathways as the science evolves.

“We have witnessed firsthand the negative effects of utilizing the extreme sea-level-rise scenarios,” said Melissa Hetrick, resilience program manager for the city of Santa Barbara. “We’ve also witnessed the erosion of public trust when community members hear how unlikely these scenarios are.”

Cal Cities supported OPC in aligning its data and methodology with federal scientific information on sea level rise rates to better reflect what the future might hold. Cal Cities also successfully advocated for balanced changes that would allow cities to distinguish how and when to disclose sea level rise information, versus when to use the projected scenarios for risk assessment, planning, design, and implementation efforts.

Cal Cities also recognized the state’s commitment to refining the guidance in future years with greater scientific information given the guidance’s precautionary approach.

Local agencies can incorporate this science into their plans for future infrastructure and housing efforts along the coast.