🚗 🚙 Turn your trusty old car into trustworthy journalism Learn more

The Navy adapts to rising sea levels

Jed Kim Dec 22, 2016
A beach within Naval Base Ventura County at Point Mugu has eroded 400 feet since the 1940's, placing critical infrastructure closer to the ocean. Jed Kim/Marketplace

The Navy adapts to rising sea levels

Jed Kim Dec 22, 2016
A beach within Naval Base Ventura County at Point Mugu has eroded 400 feet since the 1940's, placing critical infrastructure closer to the ocean. Jed Kim/Marketplace

Many environmentalists have expressed concern about the incoming Trump Administration, since several of the President-elect’s picks for cabinet appointments are people who question the human impact on climate. Many fear a government pullback from efforts to combat climate change. The Department of Defense, however, is continuing work to adapt its bases to deal with possible threats associated with a warmer planet.


Naval Base Ventura County at Point Mugu sits on the Pacific coast about 90 minutes above Los Angeles. The base contains multiple warfare systems and houses deployable units like the Pacific Seabees and the West Coast E-2C Hawkeyes.


An E-2C Hawkeye flies maneuvers above Point Mugu. 


About half of the base’s seven square miles is salt marsh and is home to many marine birds and mammals. Valerie Vartanian is a natural resources manager for the Navy. Much of her work these days is dedicated to protecting the base from nature, as the ocean level rises.


“The reality is we’re seeing more impacts from storms,” Vartanian said. “We’re seeing more flooding, and so we have to look at our areas that are vulnerable and try to be creative and clever about how we’re going to protect our infrastructures.”


Diane Leger-Jump, Valerie Vartanian and Lily Verdone survey a site within Naval Base Ventura County.


Part of the threat that the the base faces comes from extensive beach erosion. Sand naturally erodes from beaches. It also naturally refills them. Construction further up the chain has interrupted most of that natural flow.


“We’ve lost about 400 feet of beach since the 1940s,” Vartanian said. “Buildings that were quite a bit away from the beach, from the waves, are now very close.”


Satellite imagery shows the beach has eroded significantly over the past 80 years.


One squat building that houses critical electronics for the base’s runways has already flooded. Vartanian said buildings and infrastructure aren’t easily moved because of space limitations.


“If you look out, where would you move it to,” Vartanian said. “You can see that anywhere that we would put it inland means taking out more of the wetlands. So we’re caught between a wetland and an ocean.”


Base officials said they are planning a redesign, using a combination of retiring some buildings, expanding wetlands and dunes, and installing hard protections like seawalls where necessary.


“Those are things that we’re going to look at very closely and try to make those wise decisions, because they are they are expensive decisions, and we want to make the right decisions, so we have the right facilities in the right place,” said Diane Legere-Jump, facilities management division director for public works at Naval Base Ventura County.


Waves crash over a sea wall at Naval Base Ventura County. 


The base has partnered with The Nature Conservancy to help inform its decision making. Lily Verdone, coastal project director for the Nature Conservancy in California, said the agreement signed last summer was pioneering.


“This is the first public private partnership to address climate adaptation on Department of Defense lands,” Verdone said.


The Nature Conservancy has reduced the project’s costs, because it already has a lot of research and mapping resources in house. Verdone said the Navy also stands to save by incorporating as many soft solutions as possible.


“We’ve been finding that it’s, in the long term, a lot cheaper where you can to rely on nature,” Verdone said. “Looking at how we can maintain the beaches, maintain our floodplains, maintain sand dunes to use as that natural defense.”


Theresa Miller, a spokeswoman for the base, said the agreement came about after the Department of Defense released its Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap.


“It’s based on the DoD recognition in 2014 of climate change and how important it is to prepare for what we know is an eventuality and to protect our infrastructure for sure,” Miller said.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.