Adapting to Rising Tides in San Francisco Bay, California

Rachel M. Gregg, Sara Polgar
Created: 12/17/2010 - Updated: 3/02/2020


As one of the largest and most developed estuaries in North America, San Francisco Bay is under increasing pressure to plan for sea level rise. Anticipated sea level rise ranges from 20 to 55 inches along the California coast. As part of its mission to protect and enhance the Bay and ensure its wise use, the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) has been working to incorporate climate change and sea level rise scenarios into its comprehensive plan. In addition, BCDC has partnered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Coastal Services Center to create the Adapting to Rising Tides (ART) Project in order to assist communities in the Bay Area prepare for sea level rise. The ART Project has engaged local, regional, state, and federal agencies and organizations, as well as non-profit and private associations to address two questions:

  • How will sea level rise and other climate change impacts affect the future of Bay Area communities, ecosystems, infrastructure, and economy?
  • What strategies should be pursued, both locally and regionally, to reduce and manage these risks?


In 2009, BCDC released Living With a Rising Bay, its sea level rise assessment. By 2100, a 20–55 inch rise in sea levels is projected by 2100, resulting in an estimated $36 billion in expenses by 2050 and $62 billion by 2100; increased flooding risk for 270,000 Bay residents with a 55 inch rise; and increased flooding risk for 210,000 acres of Bay shoreline by 2100. The ART Project was created as an extension of this vulnerability assessment and facilitates connections between communities, scientists, managers, and planners at both the local and state level to address sea level rise. BCDC has partnered with the NOAA CSC to work with communities in the Bay Area to collectively gain a better understanding of how sea level rise and other climate change impacts will affect the region’s ecosystems, infrastructure, and economy, and to develop strategies to address these challenges.


A kickoff meeting for the ART Project was held on October 22, 2010 in Oakland to introduce the project to local community members, managers, and planners. Representatives from BCDC and ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability provided overview presentations of projected climate change and sea level rise impacts to the San Francisco Bay Area and adaptation planning processes. Participants were invited to submit proposals for a sub-regional pilot project. A portion of the Alameda County shoreline, from Emeryville to Union City was selected as the subregion, based on local community and stakeholder interest and capacity for participation, its diverse shoreline features, and presence of regionally significant transportation infrastructure.

In January 2011, the project partners convened a Subregional Working Group comprised of representatives from staff at local, county, regional, state and federal agencies that work in the subregion, as well as some private interests with investments in the project area. This group helped project staff define goals and objectives, develop communications strategies, and identify important assets along their shoreline.

An assessment of the subregion’s vulnerability and risk – the second phase of the ART Project – began in June 2011 with an impacts assessment. Project staff and the Subregional Working Group identified climate impacts associated with sea level rise and changes in storm events, and characterized the existing conditions of assets in twelve categories. In parallel, project consultants conducted a shoreline analysis of sea level rise and storm event flooding.

This impacts assessment set the stage for a comprehensive evaluation of the vulnerability of the assets in the subregion based on their exposure and sensitivity to impacts, and capacity to adapt to changes. Input from Subregional Working Group members as well as other topic experts about the societal, economic, environmental and governance consequences of sea level rise and storm event impacts, has helped project staff evaluate risks within each category of shoreline asset, and identify issues that cut across multiple asset categories and management boundaries.

Outcomes and Conclusions

Ultimately, the ART Project aims to develop a regional adaptation planning process for use by multiple communities, with anticipated outcomes including:

  • Increased capacity for vulnerability assessment and implementation of adaptation responses
  • Improved collaboration and cooperation between local and regional stakeholders in addressing climate change and sea level rise
  • Expanded access to adaptation planning tools for use by local communities

As of July 2012, the ART Project is wrapping up the vulnerability and risk assessment and transitioning to adaptation. This final phase of the project uses the assessment as a foundation for identifying and evaluating possible adaptation strategies to improve the subregion’s resilience to climate impacts.

In order to develop adaptation strategies that can address cross-cutting issues and be pursued both locally and regionally, the Project Management Team and Subregional Working Group have chosen to focus on multiple geographic scales in this phase of the project. These focused efforts include: supporting resiliency planning within a community; working with the two park district managers to develop strategies to reduce vulnerabilities in their parks within the subregion; and multi-agency collaboration on developing adaptation approaches for two areas within the subregion that face multiple, cross-cutting issues due to sea level rise and storm events.


Information gathered by interviews and online resources. Updated by project staff July 2012.

Project File (s)


Gregg, R.M. and Polgar, S. (2010). Adapting to Rising Tides in San Francisco Bay, California [Case study on a project of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE:… (Last updated July 2012)

Project Contact(s)

The Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) is dedicated to the protection and enhancement of San Francisco Bay and to the encouragement of the Bay's responsible use. When BCDC was established, only four miles of the Bay shoreline were open to public access. By drawing attention to the Bay, the Commission has played a major role in making the Bay and its shoreline a national recreational treasure. The Golden Gate National Recreational Area and numerous local, regional, and state parks and recreation areas have been established around the Bay since the Commission was established.

This organization was established in 2014 when NOAA combined two offices: the Coastal Services Center and the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management. The basic missions of the two programs remain intact, but the new organizational structure is bringing value-added services to taxpayers.


Scale of Project
Community / Local
Sector Addressed
Development (socioeconomic)
Land Use Planning
Transportation / Infrastructure
Water Resources
Target Climate Changes and Impacts
Sea level rise
Climate Type
Type of Adaptation Action/Strategy
Capacity Building
Design or reform institutions
Coordinate planning and management
Increase / Improve public awareness, education, and outreach efforts
Host adaptation training or planning workshop
Create stakeholder engagement processes to develop and implement adaptation strategies
Effort Stage
In progress

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