Mission Creek Sea Level Rise Adaptation Study - San Francisco, California

This report presents a high-level vulnerability assessment along with seven adaptation design concepts for Mission Creek and the Mission Bay neighborhood adjacent to the San Francisco Bay in San Francisco, California. This adaptation study seeks to inform sea level rise resilient redevelopment in Mission Bay - one of the largest redevelopment projects in the city of San Francisco. Though focused around Mission Creek, the process and design ideas detailed in this report can be replicated in other parts of the Bay Area. Land managers, planners, decision-makers, and the public can use the ideas from this study to envision a climate resilient Bay Area and potentially incorporate some of the ideas into a Citywide Adaptation Plan.

The Mission Creek area is one of San Francisco’s lowest lying areas and, therefore, highly vulnerable to flooding from stormwater runoff, high tides, storm surge, and sea level rise. The report begins with a review of the land cover and land use history of the Mission Creek and Mission Bay area - from a salt marsh that transitioned via bay filling and a constructed seawall into a residential and commercial neighborhood. This transition removed the tidal flat buffer, and no longer having any natural ability to drain, immediately exposed the region to extreme tides and storms.

To identify the Mission Creek area’s vulnerabilities to flooding, the study used comprehensive, high-resolution (based on a 1-meter digital elevation model) inundation maps produced by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. The maps combined sea level rise scenarios of 11-inches for 2050 and 36-inches for 2100 with 100-year storm water levels resulting in inundation scenarios of 52 inches for 2050 and 77 inches for 2100. Profiles of nine key assets identified and assessed in the area surrounding Mission Creek are provided, along with a description of each asset’s vulnerability to flooding. 

Chapter 5 focuses on this study’s process and design ideas for adaptation strategies along Mission Creek and the Bay shoreline. Stakeholder-driven workshops produced seven sea level rise adaptation project proposals, each presented in detail in this report, accompanied by graphic visualizations of each design. The Project Design Objectives were to: 

  • Focus on the development of a range of concepts for both the creek and the bay shoreline, without selecting a preferred alternative. 
  • Engage in an imaginative exercise envisioning what living with future sea level rise could look like. 
  • Strive for multipurpose solutions that integrate flood protection into the urban fabric for an attractive and economically viable city. 
  • Seek opportunities for natural ecosystem and habitat development to enhance the environmental qualities of the waterfront. 
  • Consider future adaptability as criteria in adaptation measure selection. All design concepts should be able to cope with at least 36 inches of sea level rise - in other words, suitable for 2100 water levels.

Concepts submitted range from raising Mission Creek’s shoreline to closing off the creek from the bay with a levee and multipurpose levee along the existing Bay shoreline, to creating a new waterfront landmass parallel to the existing shoreline. Three additional adaptation strategies were conceptualized for the historic piers which include retrofitting, raising and rebuilding, and strategic retreat - allowing the piers to be used as long as is possible and safe.


Publication Date: September 2016

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  • Case study
  • Engagement

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