Venice Canals Underwater?

The Venice Canals may be one of the first parts of LA to be impacted by rising sea-levels. Photo by Sam Catanzaro

New study shows Canals will flood as sea-levels rise.

By Sam Catanzaro

The Venice Canals are home to some of the most coveted real-estate in Los Angeles, but climate change and rising sea-levels have cast some uncertainty on the community’s future.

A recent study by the California Coastal Commission projects that in 25 to 50 years, as the earth gets warmer and sea-levels rise, Venice Canals will experience frequent flooding from winter storms, making it one of the first neighborhoods in Los Angeles to experience the impacts of climate change

“Flooding in this type of area for properties is not only going to be costly, but also will disrupt the community,” said Aaron Holloway, a Coastal and Water Resources Engineer at Moffatt & Nichol. “It’s going to be hard to adapt and protect and preserve the historic character of some of these buildings.”

Holloway was speaking as part of a public workshop at Westminster Elementary School last month, hosted by the Venice Local Coastal Program and designed to inform and help residents plan adaptive strategies to deal with rising sea-levels.

A projection of what future flooding could look like in Venice when sea-levels rise by 1.6 feet. Photo courtesy Venice Local Coastal Program.

The Venice Canals drain into the Marina del Rey through tide-gates, and if not for these gates, would experience flooding on a regular basis. At high tide, the ocean rises above these gates, so the canals can only be drained at low-tide. According to Holloway, this system will be impacted by rising sea-levels.

“Because the groundwater is expected to rise along with sea levels, there may be less storage capacity in the canals,” Holloway explained. “In a big rainfall event, the canals may not be big enough to hold it, and because the tides will be higher, will not have time to drain before we get the next big rainfall event.”

While canals are more inland than other parts of the Venice, they are right at sea-level, which is why the study found the area at high risk. Beachfront properties on The Boardwalk, for example, are 10-15 feet above sea-level, and are buffered by a large beach, and will not feel the impacts of rising oceans until around the year 2100, according to the study. Inland areas like Abbot Kinney will experience flooding roughly 50 years from now.

“Despite the fact that this is a half-mile from the beach, some of the higher vulnerabilities are in these inland areas,” Holloway said. “Regardless of the source of flooding, it is always going to gather at the lowest point.”

According to Holloway, there will not be many preventive measures at the disposal of Canal residents other than sandbagging. Sandbagging, however, has a limited preventive capacity and requires time to set up, he said. The City of Los Angeles could add more pumping stations to pump storm water into the ocean, but Holloway said this may have negative impacts on the Ballona Wetlands.  

The tide-gate where the Venice Canals drain into the Marina del Rey at low tide. Photo by Sam Catanzaro

City and State officials, recognizing the gravity of the situation, are hopeful that legislative solutions will mitigate the impacts of rising sea-levels. In 2016, the California Legislature passed a bill that gave the California Coastal Commission new authority to consider sea-level adaptation when considering whether or not to grant a Coastal Development Permit. At a local level, Los Angeles City Council has passed various ordinances aimed at reducing emissions and reliance on fossil fuels in a move to mitigate the speed of climate change.

“Protecting coastal neighborhoods from rising sea levels has been a cornerstone of [Los Angeles City] Councilmember [Mike] Bonin’s ambitious environmental agenda,” said David Graham-Caso, Deputy Chief of Staff for Bonin. “Councilmember Bonin has helped author and sponsor legislation to chart a path to 100 percent clean energy in L.A., to protect people from oil and gas drilling in our neighborhoods, to oppose plans for offshore oil drilling, and even to sue the oil companies who knowingly contributed to climate change.”

These approaches, however, are largely dependent on having a community that is informed of the risks of sea-level rise and is willing to adapt, expertes said. Joan Isacsson, a public participation facilitator at the communications firm Kearns & West, spoke at the public workshop at Westminster Elementary last month about the importance of community engagement in adapting to climate change.  

“Californians recognize that sea-levels have started to rise and will continue to rise. So we really have the opportunity right now to use science, examine data, and put a plan in place for communities like Venice,” Isacsson said.

Brian Bookman, a resident of the Canals, told Yo! Venice that he is concerned not only about the impacts of sea-level rise, but also about other problems associated with climate change that are already occurring throughout coastal regions in California.

“[It] can be observed with real-time evidence,” Bookman said. “We do not have to look any further than the recent devastating fires and mudslides in the Santa Barbara area for confirmation of a critical problem that is already in existence.”

Despite this, Bookman does not think that rising sea-levels will deter people from living by the canals.

“I think the allure of homes by the water, or those with sweeping views, or undisturbed natural surroundings, or magnificent weather will always beckon buyers, irrespective of potential risk,” Bookman said.

The small lots along the Canals are some of the most coveted real estate in LA. Photo by Sam Catanzaro

Winston Cenac, a realtor for Bulldog Realtors in Venice, agrees with this notion, saying that realtors will continue to sell properties on the canals despite the risks of rising sea-levels. Furthermore, Cenac says that the uncertainty surrounding the future of the canals works in the favor of realtors.

“Nobody really wants to talk about it,” Cenac told Yo! Venice. “But at a certain point, it becomes more profitable because people are more willing to sell.”

As the chance of flooding becomes more immediate, however, Cenac thinks that many homebuyers will have second-thoughts about buying property along the waterways.

“Once you are talking 20-25 years in the future more people will start talking about it,” Cenac said. “A significant amount of buyers want to pass homes on to family and will be thinking about long-term values.”