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Imperial Beach Officials Planning For Sea Level Rise

Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina talks about rising sea levels on Apr. 18, 2...

Photo by Kris Arciaga

Above: Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina talks about rising sea levels on Apr. 18, 2019.

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Imperial Beach faces the most imminent threat from rising sea levels, and city officials are already thinking about adaptation strategies.

Aired: May 2, 2019 | Download | Transcript

Imperial Beach got a peek into the future this past January. An astronomically high King Tide hit the region at the same time that a Pacific storm was pushing waves at the coastline. Imperial Beach officials prepared by deploying public safety officers to help residents deal with any flooding. Lifelong Imperial Beach resident, and the city’s current mayor, Serge Dedina said he had never seen anything like it. Dedina told KPBS Environment Reporter Erik Anderson he is already thinking about rising sea levels and the challenges his community faces.

Video by Kris Arciaga

Q: What was your first impression of the storm in January?

A: “It was a pretty normal King Tide and it looked like the ocean had just expanded and was coming at us. And I think that’s something that we saw before with the flooding that we had on our bayfront. The Bay Shore Bikeway was completely under water. So we’re just seeing a lot of things happening that we never used to see before.”

RELATED: Storm Swell, High Tide Soak Imperial Beach

Q: Is the Imperial Beach coast beside the ocean the only area threatened by sea level rise?

A: “We’re at the south end of San Diego Bay. This is a little inlet from the bay, a National Wildlife Refuge, that connects to our storm drain system and it flows under Bayside Elementary School, which is a STEAM academy. This is still a wetland right here. So, what’s happening with sea level rise and coastal flooding is the water is reoccupying the area that it used to flow through anyway. When you see the flood maps in IB what you’re seeing is water going to areas where it traditionally was.”

Q: You mentioned flood maps. What do they say about the city as water levels rise?

A: “We did a sea level rise study all over our city and really looked at about 30% to 40% of our city would be impacted. It would be a significant impact on our storm drain system and two of our schools that are along our bayfront. That was something that was unexpected to me. Not all these areas are flood zones. I mean areas that were traditional wetlands and watersheds, are going to be underwater again in the future. So that’s something that we need to start addressing now. And we’re really starting to think about how do we pay for that. And how do we address that. And how do we work with the school system to reduce that impact of flooding on the ball fields here (Bayside Elementary).”

Q: How did the January event impact Imperial Beach just south of San Diego Bay?

A: “It's 25- to 50-mile per hour northwest winds pushing water this way. A King Tide. Heavy rains. And we’re getting heavier rains than normal because of all the moisture in the atmosphere. And so water starts pushing this way. You get the whole storm drain system backed up. And then you start getting the rain flooding the neighborhood as well. That’s already happening. And we’re seeing these really extreme King Tides, so we’re seeing King Tide events that we’ve never seen before. Combined with lots of rain. So we’re just seeing a lot more flooding than we used to.”

RELATED: Scripps Institution Scientists Study Imperial Beach As Sea Level Rises

Q: What options are you considering as your city copes with rising ocean levels?

A: “What can we do in a natural climate solution way? What are the adaptation measures that we can take? What are the restoration efforts we can take and can we sort of work with nature first and foremost? Let’s see if we can minimize the risk that way. But we still have to address our storm drain system. That’s something that the city has to work on all over the city. That’s sort of the low hanging fruit of sea level rise. And we’re seeing our storm drains back up on the beach. When we get big surf and high tides we’re seeing seaweed coming out of them, so those are something we have to address and frankly we haven’t done those plans yet. And that’s something that we have to start thinking about.”

Q: Is it just Imperial Beach’s issue?

A: “Mission Bay, San Diego Bay all our coastal beachfront areas are really subject to risk. And it’s really the storm drain systems that really sort of make that apparent as they start flooding first and foremost. And I think when people in San Diego and engineers are starting to think about sea level rise they’re right away talking about storm drain systems because that’s what’s going to go first."

Q: What worries you most about sea level rise in Imperial Beach?

A: “What I’m terrified of is that this starts taking up all of our time and resources and we can’t do anything else for our residents. We still don’t have a public swimming pool. We don’t have a parks and recreation department. We’re still trying to pave alleys and put in public crosswalks and do the kind of basic infrastructure that most cities take for granted. This year we spent $15,000 taking sand out of a national wildlife refuge because the federal government was closed. That’s our junior lifeguard program for the summer. That means that underserved kids that don’t have a lot of money who get free scholarships to go to the junior lifeguard program and spend the summer at the beach. Well, if we’re spending a lot of money on sea level rise and coastal flooding, we can’t help our most underserved and low-income kids have a great quality of life. And that’s really important.”

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