Part I: Sounding the Waters


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Seven million people live in the Bay Area, and millions more come here to work and visit every year. The ability of this region to adapt to climate change affects the world. And the ways its people respond may guide coastal communities elsewhere.

San Francisco Bay is the largest estuary on the Pacific coast of the Americas. Yet it was once much larger – 40% of its waters and wetlands were filled to create real estate. The 29-inch rise of coastal waters predicted by 2050, along with rapid river run-off and flooding due to storm surges, will reclaim some of that land. Among the areas threatened are the airports, Silicon Valley, and the San Francisco financial district.

We visit people who are responding to this oncoming disaster. Mendel Stewart of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is managing the conversion of enclosed salt ponds into open wetlands. These wetlands will serve as flood control while capturing greenhouse gases and providing wildlife habitat. Will Travis directs the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission. He is trying to coordinate a regional response to this crisis. And he created a design competition looking for solutions. One idea, contributed by architect Craig Hartman, is to place an inflatable barrier beneath the Golden Gate Bridge to keep storm surges combined with high tides from flooding the land. Brilliantly simple; but realistic?