Climate Change

Since the Industrial Revolution in the early 1800s, human activities have led to continual increases in the concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere. These increases are driving widespread changes in our planet’s climate, including the atmospheric, oceanic, and hydrologic processes that support water resources and water quality in California. Observed and anticipated changes in temperatures and precipitation could significantly affect water supplies and water quality in our region by increasing the frequency, severity, and duration of floods and droughts, depleting groundwater supplies, and increasing the risk of catastrophic wildfires. These changes can increase pollution, sedimentation, temperatures/salinities, the risk of harmful algal blooms, and other factors that impact the quantity and quality of aquatic habitats such as streams, lakes, and wetlands.

Climate change is also driving observed and projected increases in local sea levels, which threaten the integrity and health of the natural and built communities along the Bay’s shoreline. Sea level rise threatens to drown the tidal marshes that sustain the health of the Bay, increase the risk of catastrophic floods in low-lying neighborhoods, inundate crucial shoreline infrastructure such as highways, railroads, airports, and wastewater treatment plants, and increase erosion and beach/land loss along the Pacific Coast. Rising atmospheric carbon dioxide also drives ocean acidification, which threatens the Bay Area’s fragile aquatic food webs as well as its robust commercial fisheries. 

The combined impacts of climate change will affect water quality and many beneficial uses of our waters, including those supporting ecological habitats, rare and endangered species and recreational uses.. Addressing climate change and its ramifications in the region are high priorities for the Water Board.


Operational Landscape Units Project. 

The Bay Area’s varying landscape characteristics (geology, hydrology, climate, etc.), land use, and demographics make different parts of the Bay shoreline vulnerable to sea level rise in different ways. Effective adaptation requires an approach that is coordinated, place-based, and cross-jurisdictional. The Water Board is therefore funding the San Francisco Estuary Institute's (SFEI) project to develop Operational Landscape Units (OLUs) for the San Francisco Baylands. The OLU Project is classifying the Bay’s shoreline into practical, science-based landscape units, and developing SLR adaptation strategies for each unit that focus on enhancing the resilience of both the natural and built environments. These adaptation strategies include structural and nonstructural measures that address ecosystem, flood risk management, water quality, and land-use planning. The first phase of the OLU project will be complete by the end of 2018.



Wetland Policies Update.

The Water Board is reviewing and, where necessary, updating its policies and procedures related to wetland fill, the beneficial re-use of dredged sediment and use of treated wastewater in wetlands, and treatment wetlands to address climate change resilience. Review partners include the San Francisco Estuary Partnership, the UC Berkeley Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and the National Science Foundation’s Re-Inventing the Nation's Urban Water Infrastructure (ReNUWIt) program.


Wetlands Regional Monitoring Program Planning.

Understanding and adapting to the impacts of climate change on the Bay’s tidal wetlands requires a regional approach to monitoring. Extensive planned tidal marsh restoration for the Bay will change the Bay’s landscape and dynamically impact water quality. Together with partners including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, San Francisco Estuary Partnership, San Francisco Estuary Institute, and San Francisco Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, the Water Board is collaborating on the development of a Wetland Regional Monitoring Program (WRMP) plan for regional tidal wetland monitoring. The program plan will focus on cost-effective monitoring strategies that build upon existing programs and leverage ongoing innovation in remote sensing techniques.

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