Is the ocean literally coming to get us? Scientific papers published this summer conclude it is certainly coming to submerge low-lying coastal property that Americans and people around the world have counted on for generations.

Even the bare minimum 1-foot additional rise in sea level that scientists virtually guarantee in the next few decades -- when combined with normal high tides and occasional storm surges -- will overrun western portions of accreted dune lands. Much of Seaside’s residential area will be at risk for occasional flooding in even this most conservative of sea-level scenarios. Operations at ports and water-treatment plants will be impacted up and down the coast.

Even small amounts of sea level rise make rare floods more common by adding to tides and storm surge, according to the Climate Central website.

Under a scenario that leading climate researchers say is increasingly likely, considering humanity’s lame response to greenhouse-gas emissions, the level of the world’s oceans could increase three or more feet by the end of the century -- within the lifetimes of children living today.

Based on detailed analysis of elevations and existing housing, Climate Central says Seaside is No. 1 in Oregon in terms of population exposed to flooding. Portland is second, Warrenton third, Cannon Beach eighth, Jeffers Gardens is ninth and Astoria is 10th. Clatsop County is first in the state of Oregon for percentage of population at risk of climate-driven flooding.

There is some good news in Climate Central’s analysis, in that the vast majority of land in the coastal counties of the Pacific Northwest is safe from sea-level impacts, at least for many decades to come. Even the relatively low-lying Long Beach Peninsula remains mostly well above the waves as far into the future as scientists can currently predict. Many highways can be gradually elevated. Necessity will drive ingenuity. And who knows -- maybe some new technology will intervene and get global temperatures under control.

But we can’t count on miracles. Now is certainly the time to make serious siting and design decisions about highways, bridges, sewer plants and any other expensive infrastructure close to the water. When current ownership patterns permit, it may, for instance, make sense to set aside highway rights-of-way in forestland uphill from existing routes. This need not mean buying new public property today, but rather preserving options for the future by making sure expensive structures aren’t built where transportation corridors may need to relocate.

From a public policy standpoint, we may not want to deny private individuals the option to build new structures next to the ocean, but we also probably shouldn’t encourage it. This means thinking long and hard about offering flood insurance and other tax-supported building assistance in areas at risk for inundation. The nation will have more than enough on its hands helping all those whose already-existing homes were built near beaches.

Some people will go to their graves utterly convinced that climate-change is hokum. Time will soon tell. But whatever is causing it, there is no doubt the ocean is rising. We need to take this seriously and do what we can now to mitigate the damage.


Matt Winters is editor of the Chinook Observer in Long Beach, Wash.

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