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Sea Level Rise Adaptation Project

California’s efforts at adapting to Sea Level Rise (SLR) lag behind those in other parts of the United States. One reason for this may be that California is not as prone to the destructive hurricanes and major flooding events that have caused widespread damage in the South and East and unlocked federal emergency funds. Nor is any major military facility in California as severely impacted by SLR as some bases in the East, such as Naval Station Norfolk. It is easier to mobilize political officials and public opinion around the impacts of actual disasters than around the cause of preventing likely, yet unrealized, future events.

The Golden State is particularly vulnerable, with more than 26 million of the state’s nearly 40 million inhabitants residing in coastal counties. The sheer concentration of people and economic value in these areas demands the attention of state and local actors. However, the state of adaptation planning is largely fragmented with neighboring jurisdictions often planning for significantly different levels of risk using different time horizons and SLR projections. Given the levels of vulnerability to SLR, coordination among government agencies is critical for mitigating risk, managing interactive effects, and addressing extreme flooding and potential displacement.

This research project seeks to serve the neighboring jurisdictions of San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties using Stanford faculty and student expertise. Under the guidance of policymakers from both counties, the Lane Center developed a new interdisciplinary class that spanned political science, public policy and civil and environmental engineering. In Fall 2018, the inaugural graduate level course, Environmental Governance and Climate Resilience (PUBLPOL 265F), taught by Bruce E. Cain, Leonard Ortolano, and Preeti Hehmeyer, explored what it means for communities to be resilient and how they can reach that goal in an equitable and effective way. The course examined proposals from the recent Bay Area Resilient by Design Challenge and what strategies from eastern and southern US coastal communities could be adopted in the San Francisco Bay Area.

In December 2018, the course culminated in a workshop for local policymakers at Stanford University that explored policy and engineering options, and presented student analyses of efforts to address sea level rise in the eastern and southeastern United States. 

Presentations from the event by Katie Hagemann, MS, of Miami-Dade County and Lt. General (Retired) Tom Bostick, former Chief Engineer, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are available below.

The Environmental Governance and Climate Resilience (PUBLPOL 265F) class was reprised for the 2019-20 academic year with a focus on wildfires in California, and will be offered again in the spring of 2022.

Reflections by Max Evans, Teaching Assistant in Environmental Governance and Climate Resilience (PUBLPOL 265F):

It was an exciting opportunity to get to work with Bruce Cain, Len Ortolano, and Preeti Hehmeyer on a new course focused specifically on resilience and climate change. Since arriving at Stanford, I’ve been interested in understanding the nuances of how climate change will impact the built environment. This course enabled students to explore that perspective through projects created for the Resilient by Design competition for the Bay Area, and also through citywide initiatives taken by forward-thinking governments on the East and Gulf coasts.

Exploring an emerging field, students engaged with researchers at Stanford and practitioners in the Bay Area to better understand the issues that decision-makers face when contemplating climate change adaptation projects. Through this engagement, they were able to see that engineering challenges are not typically the greatest constraint. Instead, it seems that such tasks as building community consensus on needed actions, raising the needed funds, and obtaining required permits will be among the biggest challenges to address.

As the Teaching Assistant for the course, I feel I learned as much as the students did when we heard from industry experts, and in reviewing reports produced by the students on the thought leaders in climate change resilience work. From the perspective of a student, courses like this that offer alternative learning experiences (i.e. engaging with stakeholders, presenting findings to Bay Area leaders), can bring meaning to the educational experience that I think will prove invaluable.

Affiliated Researchers

Center Researchers
Bruce E. Cain
Iris Hui
Preeti Hehmeyer
Other Researchers
Leonard Ortolano
Derek Ouyang