Waves flood a low-lying area of Imperial Beach
Waves flood a low-lying area of Imperial Beach in January. Courtesy OnScene.TV

A nationwide study of rising sea levels due to climate change predicts it will cost $984 million to protect low-lying parts of San Diego County over the next 20 years.

The report, released Thursday by the Washington, DC-based Center for Climate Integrity, predicts coastal communities in the lower 48 states face more than $400 billion in costs over the next 20 years.

The costs were based on building seawalls to protect against the highest storm surge expected in a typical year as sea levels rise by 14 to 28 inches this century.

Nearly 60 miles of seawall would be needed in San Diego County, with 27 miles in the City of San Diego alone.

The report said the cost estimates “reflect the bare minimum” necessary to prevent chronic flooding and inundation by 2020.

“The cost estimates presented here are just a small portion of the total adaptation costs these local and state governments will be forced to finance,” said Paul Chinowsky, lead engineer on the project, which was conducted by Boulder, CO-based Resilient Analytics.

Florida is by far the most heavily impacted state, with costs reaching nearly $76 billion statewide, but the study identified 132 counties where costs will exceed $1 billion, and 14 states where costs will exceed $10 billion.

For California, the total is estimated at $22 billion, with 1,785 miles of seawall necessary. Solano County on the Sacramento River will need the most at 373 miles.

The report, “High Tide Tax: The Price to Protect Coastal Communities from Rising Seas,” suggested that for hundreds of small coastal and tidal communities, the expense will make retreat or abandonment the only viable options.

“Our collective failure to come to grips with the massive costs of climate adaptation is the latest, and most delusional form of climate denial,” said Richard Wiles, executive director of the Center for Climate Integrity.

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.