SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – From flooding to severe drought, the Bay Area needs to take control and be prepared for the effects of climate change, Dutch experts advised in a report on Bay Area resiliency presented Wednesday at a forum for urban and regional planners and local government.
“A challenging future lies ahead for the Bay Area,” said Stientje van Veldhoven, Dutch Minister for the Environment. “You have one of the world’s strongest economies. But it’s also an extremely fragile area.”
As rising sea levels and devastating wildfires threaten Bay Area cities and suburbs, van Veldhoven said we need to find ways to adapt.
“It’s about finding space for water in cities, restoring natural ecosystems and managing resources more sustainably,” she said, noting that the Dutch have been living with the risk of flooding for centuries.
“In the Netherlands, we are a low-lying, small country and we have all these problems too,” van Veldhoven said. “We’ve been working on this approach for over 1,000 years because we had no choice. Three quarters of our country runs the risk of flooding. Climate adaptation is not new to us, it’s in our DNA. We are building with nature—that’s the lesson we’ve learned instead of trying to force nature to go our own way.”
Presenting a report written in conjunction with several Dutch architecture and urban planning firms called the Netherlands Resilience Collective, Henriette Otter, a water management expert, shared solutions previously used in the Netherlands to mitigate the effects of flooding and adapt to environmental changes.
The report, entitled “Too Little + Too Much,” addresses the unique challenges of living in an area threatened by land subsidence, earthquakes, shrinking wetlands and the simultaneous perils of flooding and drought.
“The water system is under a lot of stress, with too much water and periods of too little water which leads to droughts and fires, and climate change will worsen the stresses in the Bay Area,” Otter said. “We don’t know when disaster will hit us and we need to take control and be prepared.”
“And it can’t just be the major cities getting involved. The entire Bay Area needs to get on board,” Otter said. “Threats can no longer be solved individually or on a local level but need to be addressed in a collaborative manner.”
The report, which also highlights local initiatives as part of an international design competition called the Bay Area “Resilient by Design” Challenge, was given to Senator Scott Weiner (D-San Mateo) and Assembly member Rob Bonta (D-Alameda). Each vowed to submit it to the Legislature.
Weiner lauded the report’s emphasis on regional collaboration.
“We have some levels of regional cooperation in the Bay Area but it’s not strong enough,” he said. “We have a lot of cities that do a lot of different things.”
He also praised its recommendations on dense housing near public transportation.
“The data shows that if we don’t do that, we’ll have sprawl going further and further out into fire zones,” Weiner said. “We often prohibit new housing; apartment buildings are banned, and we need to do better.”
Wednesday’s event was one of dozens connected with the Global Climate Action Summit, a three-day international gathering of political leaders, trade groups, corporations and experts convened by Gov. Jerry Brown as a public rejoinder to President Donald Trump’s climate policy, specifically his retreat from the 2015 Paris agreement where more than 150 nations agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Brown said he intends the summit to be a signal to the world that California will not only uphold the agreement in place of the Trump administration, but also set its own ambitious agenda to stave off the effects of climate change.
“We know [climate change] is an existential threat to our planet; for our kids and grandkids,” Weiner said, speaking to the Dutch delegation. “I want to apologize on behalf of the United States for having an administration that denies climate change and is doing immense damage to the planet. If you’re China or India why should you try to step up if the United States has withdrawn? We take the responsibility very seriously in California.”
The Netherlands and California have forged a climate action alliance of sorts in recent years, working together on goals outlined in the Paris agreement.
In 2015, California and the Netherlands also signed the Under2MOU, a separate pact with nine other countries to curb the impact of climate change to try to hold global warming rises below 2 degrees Celsius.
On Monday, Brown signed into law Senate Bill 100, requiring utilities to get 100 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2045. Immediately following that, Brown issued an executive order directing the state to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045.
When asked what he wished California could do better, Weiner immediately answered, “infrastructure.
“When you look at San Francisco, at our seawall, which is falling apart, it’s very old and we’re in big trouble,” he said. “I just want to be better about infrastructure and not just waiting until things fall apart to fix them.”
He added, “The other thing is we need to recycle and reuse dramatically more water in California. We discharge huge amounts of water into the ocean. We are clogging up our sewer system with water that should be recycled. We have wars between environmentalists and agriculture over water. If we recycled like we should be, we could dramatically reduce that conflict.”
Bonta said he would like to see a statewide proposition funding climate change initiatives, and to trim down California’s myriad regulatory agencies.
“One of the clear messages from the Netherlands is to think and act with one voice and be part of the same mission,” he said.