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Petaluma nonprofit on front lines of climate change

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California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment, which went live last week, featured the latest projections on the state’s rising temperatures, declining water supply and the public health impacts of global warming.

California’s wildfires are now expected to burn 77 percent more land each year, the report found.

The assessment also covered sea level rise, and the tools used to present the data and the methods that might be employed to mitigate it were provided in-part by Petaluma nonprofit Point Blue, a conservation science institute that makes its home next to Shollenberger Park.

This year’s report was the first time the state opened up its grant applications to not-for-profit entities like Point Blue, and that gave way to unprecedented inter-agency collaborations that could alter how governments battle climate change going forward.

“Not only do I think (California is) a model for the country, I think we’re a model for the world,” said Point Blue climate adaptation group director Sam Veloz, who was also involved with the Third Assessment in 2012. “I think we’re showing how you can actually provide solutions to climate change.”

Point Blue co-authored two reports covering the imminent changes on oceans and coastlines, using data that spans the length of the Americas, from Alaska to Chile, Veloz said.

In a collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey, Point Blue helped highlight the dangers sea level rise poses to the Southern California coast, and how government officials and coastal managers can start taking steps to slow those losses.

Among the key findings of the report were that up to two-thirds of Southern California’s beaches may be completely eroded by 2100 unless there are some large-scale human interventions.

This is where Maya Hayden, the leader of Point Blue’s coastal adaptation program, came in. One of the defining attributes of the Fourth Assessment was that it provided guidelines for what those interventions could be, she said, which is often a departure from the gloom and doom that characterizes climate change discussions.

It was divided into state, regional and technical reports, with six interactive tools to help localize the data.

“I really appreciate the forward-looking nature of the state and that it’s really focused on integrating the science into policy and decision-making,” Hayden said. “It’s really rewarding to be able to work in that kind of environment, where people take the information seriously and want to affect positive change.”

In the second paper – as one of five organizations – Point Blue helped demonstrate how natural infrastructures could play a major role in reducing flood hazards.

According to the assessment, $17.9 billion worth of residential and commercial buildings throughout the state could be inundated with about 20 inches of sea level rise by 2050. A 100-year coastal flood would nearly double the cost.

If local municipalities don’t act, the report showed airports in major urban areas like San Francisco, Oakland and San Diego will be susceptible to major flooding by 2040. It also estimated 370 miles of highways are vulnerable to coastal flooding in a 100-year storm event, with over 3,750 miles exposed to temporary inundation.

To mitigate those projections, Point Blue and its partners provided technical guidance on how to create a living shoreline that was more cost-effective and more resilient than a manmade levee, for example, by building up protections like vegetated dunes, marsh sills and native oyster reefs.

“We’re looking at these solutions that get you the win-win of protecting people and, at the same time, it’s enhancing wildlife habitats and ecosystems,” Veloz said. “I think that’s what the world needs.”

The Fourth Assessment also provided funding for an expansion of the USGS Coastal Storm Modeling System, or CoSMoS, which included an update of the Our Coast Our Future Flood Viewer, an interactive tool developed by Point Blue.

Through the OCOF program, the local nonprofit has helped more than 70 agencies across 95 percent of California’s urbanized coast plan for climate change in their backyard, said Zachary Warnow, Point Blue’s director of communications.

Using this approach — providing local governments will actionable directives that are designed for long-term results — is where Point Blue has found its niche.

“I think a lot of people are really interested in it in California, and it’s become a lot more common for in-state policy to consider adaptation, nature-based solutions,” Hayden said. “These are supposed to be prioritized, and in a lot of ways we’re trying to fill a void on finding guidance on what that would look like and where those would be appropriate.”

(Contact News Editor Yousef Baig at yousef.baig@arguscourier.com or 776-8461, and on Twitter @YousefBaig.)

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