Part II: Facing the Rising Tide


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Farmer Steve Mello and real estate developer T. Jack Foster have two things in common: climate change threatens the land they have made their life’s work and neither takes the threat seriously.

Steve Mello farms an island in the Delta. He inherited the farm from his father and intends to pass it on to his son. The Delta is comprised of sunken islands, protected by levees from the surrounding waters. Mello’s land on Tyler Island lies 20 feet below sea level. Without the levees, his farm will become a lake. But levees fail and need frequent repair. And with sea level rise from the Bay and snowpack melt from the rivers threatening to flood the Delta, this task gets steadily harder. Federal officials question whether maintaining Tyler Island’s levees is a wise use of tax dollars, Mello says he is not leaving come hell or high water.

T. Jack Foster Jr. heads a family dynasty. In the 1960s, he and his father created a planned community by diking, draining and filling San Francisco Bay wetlands. Today 30,000 people live in Foster City, which boasts parks, shopping malls and several corporate headquarters. But the fill used to turn wetlands into real estate brought the land just up to the current sea level. Foster City needs to be redesigned to protect it from flooding as the sea level rises, says architect Yumi Lee. Still, T. Jack Jr. isn’t worried. He says the levees surrounding the city can simply be built higher and higher.