Every winter, Imperial Beach finds some of its streets and sidewalks underwater. This week, researchers from San Diego State and UC San Diego started digging groundwater wells to see how sea-level rise plays a role in that flooding. The sea-level impacts how shallow the water table is underneath the city.
“Flooding overall is a very, very big thing in Imperial Beach,” said Hassan Davani, Ph.D.
The SDSU researcher said most studies predict sea-level rise will significantly impact California as early as 2050. However, Davani said Imperial Beach can’t wait that long to protect itself.
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“It’s going to impact us much sooner than that,” said Davani.
“So, we’re trying to get a better sense of how bad that flooding will be,” said UC San Diego Ph.D. student Austin Barnes.
Barnes is one of the researchers working with Davani on this joint study between SDSU, UC San Diego, and the City of Imperial Beach. The groundwater wells created by Pacific Drilling are the first step. The researchers predict the ground beneath IB can’t absorb any more water from the ocean, the nearby Tijuana Estuary, and San Diego Bay. Davani said the city’s storm drain system can’t handle the perfect storm of strong king tides and heavy rains when the ground is already saturated.
“We wanted to get these wells in before the major rainfall events happen this winter,” said Barnes.
The data delivered by the wells could help Imperial Beach decide what physical changes to infrastructure the city should make now before it’s too late and far more expensive.
“We need to build the resilience right now because we are losing the infrastructure capacity right now,” said Davani. “It is really bad.”
Davani said much of the ground underneath IB is clay, which is already saturated and cannot absorb more water. Any new water from the ocean or rainfall will merely collect on top, which leads to flooding.
“Everything is going to be impacted by flooding sometime very soon,” said Davani.
The researchers said they should begin collecting data from the wells by next week. They said they should have good information for Imperial Beach after the rainy winter season.