Could rising sea levels wipe you out?

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Photo via Flickr by LA Waterworks

Several studies in the last couple years have tried to raise awareness over the risks posed to Californians by rising sea levels. In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, and the billions of dollars-worth of damage, that conversation is likely to gain some urgency. But short of installing a water-level marker, something as slow as rising tides can remain abstract and contested. This weekend, the New York Times published an online interactive graphic that acts almost like a virtual high-water mark. It’s a map of two dozen coastal and low-lying regions in the U.S., including Greater Los Angeles, which are at risk of flooding as seas rise.

So is your home at risk? Possibly. Within 100 to 300 years, there’s noticeable flooding projected for areas within 5 miles of the Southern California coast, especially in Huntington Beach and Long Beach. Check it out here. If the sea level rises 10 feet as estimated could happen by the year 2300 if nations make only moderate pollution cuts, the following would happen: Los Angeles would be 2 percent flooded, Huntington Beach would be 50 percent flooded, and Long Beach would be 20 percent flooded with the Port of Long Beach permanently disappearing.

So answering the question could be as simple as knowing whether where you sleep is within 3 feet of sea level. And in fact, 3.5 million Californians live within 3 feet of sea level and many projections peg the sea level rise at 3-5 feet by 2100, as noted in an Op-Ed today in the Los Angeles Times.

It’s easy to write off risks 300 years in the future, and whether carbon emissions is really causing the sea change is politically charged, but our guests on tonight’s “Which Way LA?” say that most coastal cities in California have already started thinking about how to mitigate things like super storms, king tides and rising sea levels. A few have already taken action, whether it’s building higher sea walls, importing sand from other beaches or actually picking up and moving some infrastructure. Of course, it’s not easy to tell private property owners that they can’t build or remodel a development on the beach, but if you’re in the line of long-term flood risk, would you think twice about that ocean view?