The ‘royal tide’ makes a splashing appearance in San Francisco

Just at the right time, the royal tide crashed along the Embarcadero in San Francisco on Saturday.

Lori Lambertson, a teacher at the Exploratorium, was standing on a bench behind and between Piers 3 and 5, giving a lecture on royal tides to about 100 people, when she noticed the waters in the bay behind her rising and lapped at the edge of the square.

“The water is rising,” she said. “Watch your feet. Things are getting exciting.

Moments later, as Lambertson explained how the land rotated under a ‘tidal bulge’, water poured over the concrete plaza and the crowd retreated several paces, out of reach of the temporary flood. , which was an inch or two deep.

Undaunted, Lambertson continued his speech, noting that while high tides are an entertaining anomaly today, rising sea levels mean high waters will become a regular occurrence and a threat to public health and safety.

“It’s really a look at our future,” she said. “When it starts to happen regularly, it’s going to be dangerous.”

Higher sea and bay levels could flood vital infrastructure, including sewage stations, send toxic waste into communities and raise environmental justice issues, as many areas susceptible to flooded and polluted are in low-income neighborhoods.

Matt Wickens, engineer for the Port of San Francisco’s resilience program, said the port is preparing to protect its coastline with taller levees and will release more details of its plan early next year. Already, some facilities have been built for higher sea levels, including the Emergency On-Water Ferry Terminal just south of the ferry building and Fire Station 35 at Pier 22-1/2, which floats . New neighborhoods at Pier 70 and Mission Rock have also been built to stay above rising seas, he said.

“What we want to do is build the whole coastline,” he said. “We don’t want to create islands.

The royal tide, Lambertson explained, is not the official name for exceptionally high tides that appear two or three times a year, usually in November, December and January. And she would prefer to call it something else.

“Royal tide is not a scientific term,” she said. “It’s also kind of a sexist term. I prefer to use “royal tide”.

Whatever the name, the highest tides of the year are set to return on Sunday, when they reach over 7 feet around 11:15 a.m. at Golden Gate, and in January, when tide levels are expected to be of similar height, she mentioned. Saturday’s royal tide was expected to measure 7.13ft.

Ian Ferguson, 7, plays in puddles caused by the rising tide that swelled on the Embarcadero pier on Saturday in San Francisco.

Jana Asenbrennerova/Special at The Chronicle

Among those present at Saturday’s slightly soggy presentation were Gayle Laird, of San Francisco, and her children, Owen Runser, 8, and Melissa Runser, 4. Whenever water crossed the sidewalk, the siblings stomped and jumped through the puddles in their rain boots, an uncommon pleasure in drought-stricken California.

“I thought that visual—seeing the tide while hearing about it—would be good for them,” Laird said. “And I knew it would be fun for them to stomp around in it.”

But alongside the fun, Laird had an ulterior motive, she admitted.

“It’s important that they know that from an early age,” she said, “because they’re the ones who are going to have to get us out of this mess.”

Michael Cabanatuan is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @ctuan

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