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King Tides Give San Diego A ‘Peak’ At Sea Level Rise

Above: The Fish Market Restaurant near Seaport Village

King Tides swelled again Friday along the Southern California coast but only minor flooding was reported in a few areas.

High water levels around San Diego Bay could become the norm instead of the exception. This week's high tides are a warning sign of what may be coming. King Tides happen a couple of times a year, when the earth, sun and moon's gravitational fields conspire to pull the earth's oceans toward shore.

The water level in San Diego Bay has practically swallowed some pocket beaches. Steps to expensive Coronado Bay-side homes are submerged. And water is lapping up against the rock holding up the Fish Market Restaurant near the Midway Aircraft Carrier.

"Looking at the corner here, it looks like the water level is about 18 inches below the restaurant," said Travis Prichard of San Diego Coastkeeper. "If this becomes the new normal sea level, and then you add tides plus storm surges on top of that, then this really illustrates how vulnerable we are in San Diego county to sea level rise."

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Two photos comparing King Tides and low tide at Shelter Island in San Diego.

Further south, the water has swallowed up the wetlands near the South Bay power plant.

"When you're backed up against development, you're going to end up squeezing the wetlands, and eventually it's unable to adapt and you'll lose it to the ocean," said ecologist Danielle Boudreau.

The mostly likely defense against rising waters are seawalls. Environmentalists argue that could completely change the nature of San Diego Bay and how it is used. Another set of King Tides is expected next month.

Television news reports showed ankle-deep water on some streets in the Sunset Beach area near Huntington Harbour shortly after a morning high tide of over 7 feet.

No homes were flooded and there were no major traffic tie-ups, even though water spilling from the harbor submerged one lane of the Pacific Coast Highway, a major Orange County coastal route.

Newport Beach also had some roadway flooding on Friday, but no damage to homes, and the tidal flow from the bay was lower, city spokeswoman Tara Finnigan said. "It peaked at around 8 feet," she said. "Yesterday it peaked here at about 8 feet, 4 inches ... Things are moving in the right direction."

The highest tide of the year struck California on Thursday morning but proved to be more of a nuisance than a threat.

Bruce DuAmarell, an 18-year Sunset Beach resident, said he got a call at work from an alarmed neighbor and came home.

"There were four to five inches in my garage," he said, as he took a break from sweeping water onto the street. "It came up over the seawall and literally filled up the harbor." DuAmarell said he lost a vacuum cleaner and some Christmas presents for his children, but otherwise was unscathed.

The worst damage Thursday was just north of San Francisco, where the tide swamped a commuter parking lot in Marin City and seeped into dozens of cars. King tides occur several times a year when the Earth, moon and sun align in a way that increases gravitational pull on oceans, raising water levels several feet above normal high tides. The non-scientific term also refers to extremely low tides.

Residents of Sunset Beach had expected Thursday's flooding but that didn't keep 13-year resident Fred Grether out of trouble.

He tried to drive his 2004 Porsche to a car wash to rinse off the salt water after the flooding reached the rims and undercarriage. But driving to the car wash did more damage than staying put, he said as a tow truck prepared to haul his car to the shop. "I didn't realize how deep it was at the intersection and as soon as I got to the intersection, I heard this frizzling noise and my car alarm started going off and I realized that I had burned out the electrical system on my car," he said.

"Now I'm off to my local mechanic today about me doing something very, very stupid," said Grether, who's seen flooding three times.

The tide at Marin City reached 7 feet, slightly higher than during last December's king tides, which prompted the California Highway Patrol to temporarily close a highway connector ramp due to roadway flooding midmorning.

The tides reached over 10 feet in Redwood City, a bit above predicted levels, the National Weather Service said.

The event provided organizers of the California King Tides Initiative an opportunity to get California residents thinking about and preparing for the future. The 3-year-old initiative, sponsored by government and nonprofit groups, enlists camera-toting volunteers to photograph the King Tides as an illustration of what low-lying coastal areas could look like if predicted sea level rises caused by climate change come to pass.

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