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Pedestrians and cyclists pass by the Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center in Palo Alto on May 13. Magali Gauthier / Palo Alto Online

CA - With Baylands Under Flood Threat, Palo Alto Explores Projects to Address Sea Level Rise

Residents invited to Wednesday webinar to learn, offer feedback on city's efforts

If current predictions hold, the entire Palo Alto Baylands could be submerged by the middle of the century because of sea level rise, a destructive predicament that would threaten both the sensitive habitat and the critical infrastructure in the nature preserve.

To prepare for rising tides, the city is moving ahead with the creation of a new Sea Level Adaptation Plan, a document that will consider upgrades to vulnerable infrastructure, a risk assessment of all structures near flood-prone areas and strategies that new developments would have to adopt as they adapt to a wetter reality. It is also pushing forward with plans on a levee project that would use treated wastewater from the nearby treatment plant to support a newly created nature habitat in the transition zone between the tidal area and the terrestrial uplands area.

Palo Alto officials plan to provide an update on both efforts this Wednesday, Sept. 9, when the city hosts a webinar on sea level rise. The event will go from 3 to 4 p.m. and will include staff presentations from the city and Santa Clara Valley Water District, which will discuss the agency's own long-term planning efforts around sea level rise.

According to Palo Alto's recently adopted sea level policy, the city also intends to undertake new partnerships with surrounding cities, including East Palo Alto and Mountain View, for joint planning efforts and projects such as levees to address the rising tides.

Palo Alto has already partnered with the San Francisco Estuary Partnership to create a concept plan for a "horizontal levee," a structure that aims to both boost the city's flood protection and protect habitat that would be threatened by sea level rise. Unlike traditional levees, which tend to be steeper and composed of rocks (known as rip rap), the proposed levee would be a gentle berm with "green" infrastructure that can support a brackish marsh in the transition zone close to the Palo Alto Airport and Baylands Golf Links golf course.

Samantha Engelage, senior engineer in the city's Public Works Department, said the current flood-control levees near the Baylands don't meet standards set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and at times experience overtopping, particularly when king tides coincide with storm events. In a February update to the city's Parks and Recreation Commission, Engelage said the levees need improvement "to secure Palo Alto and the key infrastructure that is in the Baylands," including the airport, the golf course and the Regional Water Quality Control Plant.

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