Guidance for Incorporating Sea Level Rise into Capital Planning in San Francisco

This Guidance presents a framework for considering sea level rise within the capital planning process for the City and County of San Francisco (CCSF). Adopted by the Capital Planning Committee (CPC) September 2014, the Guidance provides direction to all departments on how to incorporate sea level rise into new construction, capital improvement, and maintenance projects.

The San Francisco Department of the Environment, in partnership with the Public Utilities Commission and Planning Department, convened an inter-agency Climate Adaptation Working Group also known as SF Adapt. This Guidance was prepared by the Sea Level Rise Committee of SF Adapt for the San Francisco Capital Planning Committee. 

The Guidance provides CCSF departments with a step-by-step approach for considering sea level rise vulnerability, risk and adaptation planning within their department Capital Plans. It also includes a detailed discussion of the recommended best adaptation planning process that City Departments should follow in applying these steps to capital planning. A Project Planning Checklist helps project planners and engineers assess project locations, life cycle, exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity.  All projects within a "Sea-Level Rise Vulnerability Zone (SLRVZ)" representing areas at risk of the 1-in-100 year storm plus 66 inches of sea-level rise (the worst case scenario for 2100 for the Bay Area region) must follow the checklist.

The Guidance adapts customary practices for capital project planning and design by: (1) requiring asset managers to consider the full functional lifespan of the asset, which includes the full time that the asset may realistically be expected to function in its location including one with maintenance and repair; (2) asset managers are required to address uncertainties of sea-level rise projections by (i) considering the adaptive capacity of the asset (i.e., can the asset be designed to withstand flooding, or could additional resilience be built in easily at later dates if sea-level rise rates are higher than anticipated) or, if the asset has limited adaptive capacity, by (ii) designing to the higher-end sea-level rise estimates.

The CPC, in turn, will use this Guidance to determine whether department Capital Plans have adequately addressed sea level rise vulnerabilities, risk and adaptation. The Guidance asserts that planning efforts “must incorporate the latest climate science to determine how to protect and modify existing assets and design new assets to be more resilient to rising seas.”

Applications of the guidance in capital planning scenarios are given also. An example illustrates how a City department could consider the effects of sea level rise in its capital planning process for several public assets in the same area. The example provides details on planning the construction of a new fire station, the rehabilitation of an existing vacant waterfront building into a visitor center, and the construction of a new shoreline park.

The Project Planning Checklist was also created as a tool for project managers to use to implement the SLR Guidance, which is provided as Appendix 5 in this report. The checklist is to be used by CCSF departments to guide the evaluation of projects considered for funding through the CCSF capital planning processes. The checklist will be completed for projects near or within the sea level rise zone. 

The City is using Sea-Level Rise Guidance in the development of a multi-billion dollar Sewer System Improvement Program, to reassess the elevation and design of the existing Southeast Wastewater Treatment Plant, to develop a floating pier design along the Embarcadero; and to assess the design of a police department in the SLRVZ. As a result of the guidance, sea-level rise considerations are being mainstreamed into the City's capital improvement planning processes.  

Publication Date: September 22, 2014

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User Comments:

  • March 24, 2017
    Jessica Grannis, Adaptation Program Director at Georgetown Climate Center

    Really good example of how to incorporate consideration of sea-level rise into city capital improvement planning processes. The checklist includes consideration of the adaptive capacity of a project and the appropriate lifecycle to use when evaluating long-term risks to an asset.