Rising Seas Are Coming For Big Tech Campuses. Who Will Pay To Protect Them?

6 min read
fairly easy
Coastal cities need billions of dollars to build defenses against sea level rise. Tensions are rising over where that funding will come from: taxpayers or private companies with waterfront property?
The entrance to Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park is marked by a piece of Silicon Valley iconography. It's a huge thumbs-up, taller than a person, the symbol used as the social media giant's "like" button. It's not unusual to see people taking selfies in front of it.

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The rest of the campus is bordered by something less eye-catching: a 9-foot-tall earthen berm. It's the barrier that protects Facebook's east campus, 1 million square feet of office space on land that juts into San Francisco Bay.

"Some people refer to them as levees, but they're really just mounds of dirt," says Kevin Murray, senior project manager with the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority, an agency that works on flood protection in the area.

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Facebook's shoreline campus, along with surrounding roads, homes and businesses, depends on levees that were never designed to protect people. In the 1940s, salt-making companies mounded up mud to form large ponds where bay water evaporated, leaving behind crystalline salt.

Over the years, government agencies have maintained the levees. But the whole region is considered a flood zone because the levees weren't constructed to meet safety standards, which the Federal Emergency Management Agency created to ensure the barriers can withstand extreme storms.

"We know that the structures that are providing flood barrier now are not adequate and are subject to failure if we have a really big tide or a big wind event or a big storm surge," Murray says.

Climate change is only increasing that risk.

San Francisco Bay has already risen almost 8 inches in the past century. By 2050, the bay is expected to rise between 0.9 feet and 1.9 feet, depending on how much more greenhouse gas pollution humans emit.

By the end of the century, the water could be as much as 5 feet higher or more, if emissions don't fall.

Coastal cities grapple with "fair share"

Like Facebook's campus, billions of…
NPR Staff
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