One of the consequences of climate change and sea level rise that has not been extensively examined is the possible damages that can be done to regional economies. Even under scenarios of relatively small sea level rise, areas historically at risk from flooding will find flooding increasing as storms increase in frequency and severity. The result will likely be temporary disruptions of business activity lasting days to weeks. Climate change and accompanying higher sea levels will mean increasing severity of flood risk that will well to areas that have been historically immune to flooding. The cumulative effect of these flood threats poses a significant risk to the San Diego County economy.
To investigate these vulnerabilities, the San Diego Regional Climate Collaborative engaged the Center for the Blue Economy of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey to investigate the potential effects from climate change and projected sea level rise, and coastal storms on the economy of San Diego County. The importance of assessing these vulnerabilities arises because San Diego County is the 17th largest metropolitan area in the country and the 5th largest in California. San Diego County has a GDP that is larger than 25 other states.
Much of this economy is located near the ocean and bays. In 2014, the 30 zip codes in the county that are adjacent to the shore were the location of over 34,000 employment establishments, with over 543,000 employees accounting for nearly $30 billion in wages and salaries. These zip codes accounted for 42% of county employment establishments, 46% of employment, and 50% of county wages & salaries.
This report consists of a regional economic vulnerability assessment using flooding projections developed by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) Coastal Storm Modeling System and economic activity and asset data available for San Diego County. The economic vulnerability assessment seeks to identify whether important parts of the economic base of the region (the industries which sell outside the region) are vulnerable and where adaptation strategies may be needed to sustain commercial and industrial activity. This type of vulnerability assessment does not forecast specific impacts, but points to possible effects of the conditions that define the scenario. It is designed to alert about possible future issues and highlight aspects that require priority attention in planning. It does not consider planned adaptation strategies, which many jurisdictions in the region are currently working on but seeks to help inform those planning efforts.
Vulnerability was identified by spatially analyzing the relationship between potential flooding projected by the USGS Coastal Storm Modeling System (CoSMoS) under assumptions of no sea level rise, 1 meter (39.7” or 3.3. feet) of sea level rise and 2 meters (78.7” or 6.6 feet). These assumptions are generally consistent with other sea level rise vulnerability assessments conducted by jurisdictions in the San Diego region that assume between 1.5 to 2 feet of sea level rise by 2050 and 3 to 6.6 feet by 2100.
Colgan, Charles; DePaolis, Fernando; and Richards, Shaun, "Regional Economic Vulnerability to Sea Level Rise in San Diego County" (2018). Publications. 12.