The highest tide of the Southern California winter can serve as a possible precursor to what coastal residents could see on a regular basis in the future, says a local environmental group.

Santa Monica Baykeeper is one of several organizations that monitored what are known as The King Tides, which occurred Feb. 16 through 18. Environmental groups and government agencies throughout California worked with volunteers to document the seasonal swing of sea rise.

The initiative will help communities and policymakers visualize projected flooding, and inspire them to take action to protect homes, harbors, shoreline treatment plants, and other key infrastructure, beaches, wetlands, and public access to the coast, according to the Santa Monica-based environmental group.

“King tides provide a rare opportunity to experience a taste of how sea level rise will affect Southern California’s environment, infrastructure, and economy,” Santa Monica Baykeeper Executive Director Elizabeth Crosson said. “Sea level rise is a serious threat to coastal communities and demands immediate attention. We need to address causes of sea level rise and prepare our coastlines by restoring and protecting wetlands and estuarine habitats.”

Heal the Bay, another Santa Monica-based environmental group, views the King Tides as an entry point for much needed discussion about how the increasing level of sea rise can have an effect on local coastal communities.

“The tides are a natural oceanographic phenomenon that occurs twice a year, once in winter and once in summer,” explained Heal the Bay’s coastal resources director Sarah Sikich. “It’s a good occasion to educate people about sea level rise.”

A 2009 Pacific Institute sea level rise report forecasts more than one foot of sea level rise by 2050 and four to five feet by 2100 along the California coast.

Santa Monica, Marina del Rey, Playa del Rey and Venice are also subject to these effects of this phenomenon, environmentalists say.

An initiative by the city of Ventura to combat sea rise was reported in the Los Angeles Times last month. A $4.5 million project near Surfers Pointe will include removing a 120-space parking lot and installing sand and cobblestones.

Coastal officials hope to give the area an additional 50 years of protection by moving the asphalt inland.

“One of the most important things to know is that so many communities are so close to the coast,” Sikich noted. “As sea rise becomes a real threat, these communities are faced with adaptation challenges to the coast and possibly to infrastructure.”

Heal the Bay’s coastal resources director said that there could be future risks to drinking water supplies due to seawater infiltration.

Sea rise should also be taken into account for the Ballona Wetlands, Sikich said.

“It’s critical that we plan restoration activities with sea level rise in mind,” she said.

The notice of preparation, which triggers the environmental process for the long-awaited wetlands restoration initiative, is scheduled to be released next month, according to the California Coastal Conservancy.

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