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King Tide on San Francisco Embarcadero Illustrates Climate Change Risk

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- Spectators traveled to San Francisco's Embarcadero Sunday morning to witness the high water of a king tide. It was an opportunity for people to ponder the city's future as sea levels continue to rise.

One hundred fifty years ago, those who built San Francisco assumed the ocean would stay where it was. Sunday morning, with water lapping over the Embarcadero sea wall, San Franciscans saw how close it is to moving into the city.

"I just got hit by some water just now walking through here so, yeah, it definitely is making a big change," said Cheong-Tseng Eng.

He made the trek from Oakland just to see the high water and said he is concerned about the future of the city he was born and raised in.

"Especially as the tides come up," he said, "I feel like this is going to be a precursor to what the city's going to look like as time goes on over the next 20, 30 years."

It's a situation affecting all communities circling the bay and things seem to be accelerating. According to NOAA, the sea has risen about eight to nine inches since 1880 with about a third of that coming in just the past 25 years. Even if greenhouse gas emission goals are met, the level will likely rise at least another 12 inches by 2100.

As sea water splashed onto the sidewalk, Rita LeRoy, from Vallejo, sounded confident about the future.

"I'm sure San Francisco will rise to the challenge and make sure everything is safe with the infrastructure," she said.

They've already begun: a new addition to the Embarcadero Fire Station is being built on a giant barge so it can rise and lower with the water level. Still, with hundreds of billions of dollars of downtown structures at risk, others are not so optimistic.

"I don't know what they're going to do," said San Franciscan Pat Koren. "You can't just move all these buildings!"

"I don't see how San Francisco is going to do it," said resident Bob Siegel. "Will we have the money to improve the infrastructure? I can't see it."

Six-year old Trey Leugers said it looked like the water might overflow into his city someday and, if it does, he said, "Everyone would be out of breath."

The scientific community says inland areas will feel the effects as well. A rising ocean will increase pressure on upstream sources, possibly affecting agriculture and fouling drinking water supplies with sea water. Climate scientists demand urgent action while admitting that, for cities so close to the sea like San Francisco, the damage may already have been done.


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