Are shellfish and salmon imperiled?

By Adam Spencer, The Triplicate October 07, 2013 05:27 pm

Despite lingering skepticism across the country, California has taken the most proactive approach of any state in preparing for the impacts of climate change. 

Across much of the state, the impacts that sea level rise will have on infrastructure is the major climate concern — roads and seawalls will be too low for the new normals. But in Del Norte County, where the sea level is not predicted to rise as dramatically because of continental uplift, some of the bigger climate change concerns are related to impacts on coastal resources like salmon and shellfish.

With the intention of building tribal relations and hearing from residents from the remote northwest corner of California, the state’s Natural Resources Agency held a public workshop in Klamath on Wednesday to receive input on updating the state’s climate change response plan. The meeting at the Yurok Tribal headquarters in Klamath was one of only five public workshops held across the state.

Joe Hostler, of the Yurok Tribe Environmental Program, told the state officials in attendance that an increase in ocean acidification and coastal hypoxia as a result of climate change is of particular concern to the tribe. Yurok tribal members rely on healthy salmon and shellfish for subsistence and economic vitality.

Hostler said that the tribe is seeking funds to study the complex ecosystem of the Klamath River estuary. The mouth of the Klamath is one of the largest natural river mouths in the country, and the influence of ocean tides on the brackish estuary is not fully understood.

Kathleen Sloan, director of the Yurok Tribe Environmental Program, said that outreach and education on the likely impacts of climate change are needed. Sloan also said that the tribe needs funding to conduct research for baseline data of what the coastal and river resources are like currently, so that climate change impacts will be better recognized.

“How are we going to know the effects without a good, solid baseline?” Sloan said.

FEMA funds available

Julie Norris, of the California Offices of Emergency Services, detailed what steps the state has taken to prepare and plan for disasters, beyond response and recovery.

“California is more prepared than other parts of the nation, because we have so many disasters,” Norris said Wednesday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved California’s multi-hazard mitigation plan, which opens up the ability for local governments and tribes to apply for FEMA funds for local hazard mitigation plans, Norris said.

Mark Wheetley, vice-mayor of Arcata and coastal city representative for the League of California Cities, said that many poor coastal cities are in need of funding to research how sea-level rise will affect them, although Arcata has been fortunate to have nearby experts at Humboldt State University.

“But most cities don’t have HSU in their backyard,” Wheetley said.

DN climate change impacts

The state projects that with a 1.4 meter rise in sea level, there will be more people and property vulnerable to a 100-year flood event, like the 1964 Christmas flood that decimated Klamath.  Statewide, $100 billion worth of property and 480,000 people are considered at risk.

With a 1.4 meter sea-level rise, 800 more Del Norters would be vulnerable to a 100-year flood than those at risk with current sea levels, and $110 million in property damage is anticipated.

To avoid these impacts, state research indicates that 38 miles of new levees and one mile of new seawall will need to be constructed at a cost of $330 million in Del Norte.

While most coastal counties are projected to have cliff erosion of an average distance of 66 meters by 2100, some Del Norte County cliffs are projected to erode by a distance of as much as 520 meters.

By the year 2100, Del Norte is predicted to have 2.6 square miles of cliff erosion from a 1.4 meter sea level rise, and 1.9 square miles of dune erosion. 

Reach Adam Spencer at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it