Sea Level Rise has increasingly been a topic of discussion as it comes closer to being a reality of our changing planet. As seas around the world are set to rise up to around seven feet by 2100, Morro Bay High School stands in a somewhat unique position as one of the closest high schools to the ocean in the nation. With this proximity comes cause for worry as the close waters begin to rise. Since being built about 60 years ago, is Morro Bay High School’s destruction imminent?
In a word, no. Consulting with Dr. Prater, Superintendent of San Luis Coastal Unified School District, the high school has some degree of protection of rising seas based on the natural dunes that separate the sea from the school, which will play, according to Prater, “a critical role” in keeping the school from flooding. This description by Prater is also supported by findings from https://riskfinder.climatecentral.org/, a website which models the potential effects of Sea Level Rise, which shows that even with ten feet of Sea Level Rise (well above the estimate of a seven foot rise as estimated by a report by the Legislative Analyst’s Office of California), Morro Bay High School won’t be significantly affected, with only part of the West Field being flooded.
It isn’t all good news, however. The level of flooding described above does not take into account increased storm surges that may result from a changing climate, which can cause increased flooding beyond the estimates. Also, Sea Level Rise has a wider effect on the school than just what occurs on campus. Because the school system is partially funded by property taxes (approximately 22% according to the Public Policy Institute of California (www.ppic.org), as local property is harmed by rising seas (as is discussed here), the school will receive less funding, as explained by Chris Ungar, author of a Climate Resolution within the school district. He explained that “this loss of funding will occur at a time when extra money will be needed to make infrastructure repair, changes, and possible relocations.”
Furthermore, just because the school campus might not be significantly affected doesn’t mean that flooding won’t make certain aspects of school more difficult for students. More specifically, flooding on Highway 1 will make getting to school much more challenging. As said by Dr. Prater, this issue has already been seen in the past, forcing “school buses…to be diverted.” As these conditions worsen and flooding becomes more common, the district will have to come up with solutions. On this issue, Prater said that the district would have to work with the city of Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo.
Overall, Prater made it clear in his interview that the district follows safety guidelines that do not yet directly prepare for Sea Level Rise. Although the school district has adopted certain measures to prepare for Climate Change (seen, for instance, in Ungar’s resolution drafted by the district last year), he still believes that there is more work to be done for Sea Level Rise, saying specifically that he plans to “study it further.”