Projected sea level rise, caused by climate change, threatens to flood coastlines around the world, including most major cities. Inundation of roads, airports, sewage treatment plants, hospitals and other infrastructure situated by the water will affect those of us living on higher land as well. How will this impact our lives? What are we doing to address this paradigm shift?
Farmer Steve Mello and real estate developer T. Jack Foster have two things in common: climate change threatens the land they have made their life’s work and neither takes the threat seriously.
Steve Mello farms an island in the Delta. He inherited the farm from his father and intends to pass it on to his son. The Delta is comprised of sunken islands, protected by levees from the surrounding waters. Mello’s land on Tyler Island lies 20 feet below sea level. Without the levees, his farm will become a lake. But levees fail and need frequent repair. And with sea level rise from the Bay and snowpack melt from the rivers threatening to flood the Delta, this task gets steadily harder. Federal officials question whether maintaining Tyler Island’s levees is a wise use of tax dollars, Mello says he is not leaving come hell or high water.
Chuey Cazares has lived all of his 21 years in Alviso, a tiny hamlet jutting into the salt ponds at the southern tip of San Francisco Bay. Part of a close, extended Chicano family, with hundreds of relatives living in town, Chuey works as a deck hand on a shrimp boat off Alviso’s shores.
His town’s history—and its future—are defined by water. In the 1800′s, farmers drained the aquifer, and the land sank thirteen feet below sea level. Then, the conversion of wetlands to salt ponds made the rivers back up during heavy rains and flooded Alviso. Now high tides and storm surges, due to climate change, threaten more frequent flooding. Chuey’s family was traumatized by the last big flood in 1983, and although they fear the next one, they don’t want to move anywhere else.