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Rising Sea Levels – Local Consequences

With man-made climate change being widely accepted by the scientific community, the question is no longer “if” but “when” our communities will be affected by these large-scale changes in the environment. The Pacific Institute has recently released an interactive map that projects to 2100 and identifies at-risk areas in the event of a major flood or from erosion, with both scenarios dependent on a ~4.6 ft sea-level rise. Read more about the study conducted here and see the actual map here.


Within our community, City Council, UCSC Professors, and the Santa Cruz Sentinel are writing about and making plans to mitigate potential harm done by climate change. This issue is directly related to Santa Cruz Real Estate. Flood Hazard zones are likely to grow and prime real estate on our beautiful cliffs may be at risk. Read on for more information about the consequences of sea-level rises in California and Santa Cruz.



  • For the California coast, south of Cape Mendocino, it is projected that sea levels will rise between 2 to 12 inches by 2030, 5 to 24 inches by 2050, and 17 to 66 inches by 2100. Read more about these projections here.
  • As seen in the Pacific Institute’s research, rising sea levels will result in major flood damage in high density areas like the Bay Area and Los Angeles.
  • The Bay Area would suffer a minimum of $10 billion in economic damages from an extreme storm. The damage would be severe along the Bay’s waterfront land, where companies, such as Facebook and Google employ hundreds of thousands of workers, 355,000 residents have homes, and key economic and civic infrastructure is located. (source)


Santa Cruz:



  • In the map above, the blue area highlights current areas that are flood-prone in the event of a major storm. The pink area outlines areas at-risk for flooding during a major storm by 2100 with a 1.4 meter sea-level rise (4.6 ft) (source).
  • Over the past 22 years, average wave heights in Santa Cruz County have risen by a foot and a half. In January 2016, the ocean swelled a foot above predicted tides. Consequently, areas like Twin Lakes, 21st Avenue, Moran Lake and downtown Capitola are increasingly vulnerable during periodic combinations of big swells and high tide.
  • If water were to breach the San Lorenzo River levee, it would flood downtown Santa Cruz from Pacific Avenue past Chestnut Street to the Santa Cruz High School playing fields, according to maps generated by FEMA (seen here).
  • As seen in the FEMA map, homes also are vulnerable to floods on the lower part of Arana Gulch, north of the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor, parts of Branciforte and Carbonera Creeks and the lower part of Moore Creek on the far westside. Other vulnerable areas include the Beach Flats and Lower Ocean neighborhoods, as well as homes and businesses between River Street and the San Lorenzo River.
  • This report outlines additional consequences of climate change in Santa Cruz County as well as future actions to mitigate city damage. Those directly relevant to real estate transactions include, but are not limited to:
    • Require setbacks for developments adjacent to cliffs.
    • Protect natural shoreline processes from alteration.
    • Restrict development in floodplains.


Clearly, sea level rise will impact California real estate. As with all predictions, the timing, exact amount and location of damage is uncertain. Additionally, many of these reports project sea levels in 2100, over 83 years into the future. While this may seem far away, making wise decisions now may reduce the likelihood of disaster in the future. We will continue to research and keep you up to date on this topic, as we think that it is very valuable information to consider in all of your real estate decisions.

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