RISE: Climate Change and Coastal Communities, Part III

Chuey Cazares and his family live in the tiny coastal town of Alviso at the southern tip of the San Francisco Bay .
Credit Jan Sturmann

Chuey Cazares has lived all of his 21 years in Alviso, a tiny hamlet jutting into the salt ponds at the southern tip of the San Francisco Bay. Chuey works as a deck hand on a shrimp boat off Alviso's shores.

His town's history — and its future — are defined by water. In the 1800s, farmers drained the aquifer, and the land sank 13 feet below sea level. Then, the conversion of wetlands to salt ponds made the rivers back up during heavy rains and flooded Alviso. Now sea level rise from the Bay and more rain swelling the rivers threaten more frequent flooding. Chuey's family was traumatized by the last big flood in 1983, and although they fear the next one, they don't want to move anywhere else.

Meanwhile, Mendel Stuart of the US Fish and Wildlife Service is working to save Alviso by restoring wetlands. But who is Alviso being saved for? As the flood risk lessens, property values are increasing, making housing in Alviso unaffordable for Chuey and his relatives. And the wetlands conversion has driven his boss's lucrative shrimping business out of the salt ponds.

While we must adapt to the impacts of climate change that we can no longer halt, Chuey's story dramatizes that climate change will create both winners and losers in the short term.