Part III: Chuey’s Story

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Chuey Cazares has lived all of his 21 years in Alviso, a tiny hamlet jutting into the salt ponds at the southern tip of San Francisco Bay. Part of a close, extended Chicano family, with hundreds of relatives living in town, Chuey works as a deck hand on a shrimp boat off Alviso’s shores.

His town’s history—and its future—are defined by water. In the 1800’s, farmers drained the aquifer, and the land sank thirteen feet below sea level. Then, the conversion of wetlands to salt ponds made the rivers back up during heavy rains and flooded Alviso. Now high tides and storm surges, due to climate change, threaten more frequent flooding. Chuey’s family was traumatized by the last big flood in 1983, and although they fear the next one, they don’t want to move anywhere else.

Meanwhile, Mendel Stewart of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working to save Alviso by restoring wetlands. But who is Alviso being saved for? As the flood risk lessens, property values are increasing, making housing in Alviso unaffordable for Chuey and his relatives. And the wetlands conversion has driven his boss’s lucrative shrimping business out of the salt ponds.

It is imperative that we protect our cities and towns from the impact of climate change. But not everyone will benefit. Chuey’s way of life may be a casualty of our good intentions and others will suffer as well.