Protecting Critical Regional Infrastructure near the Bay Area’s Lowest-lying Community

Alviso, California

This report is a case study in sea level rise adaptation planning focusing on Alviso, a low income minority community located in San Jose, California on the southern edge of the San Francisco Bay. Alviso has already experienced a history of fluvial flooding and its extremely low elevation and proximity to the Bay contribute to its high vulnerability to sea level rise. Given the history of neglect the neighborhood as experienced compared to more affluent regions of San Jose, it is doubtful that the City would spend the resources necessary stave off eventual inundation.


However, several pieces of expensive infrastructure critical to the operations of the region are also located on the Bay edge near Alviso. Among these is the San Jose-Santa Clara Regional Wastewater Facility (RWF), which is undergoing a $2.2 billion upgrade–one of the largest current infrastructure projects in the Bay Area. The prioritization of protecting expensive public investments from sea level rise may be Alviso’s saving grace.


Although reducing flood risk to Alviso was not within the scope of the master plan governing the RWF upgrade, the South San Francisco Bay Shoreline Study led by the US Army Corps of Engineers considered a series of levee alignment options, all of which extend protections to Alviso. On one hand, this is evidence of the problematic approach to quantifying the value of flood protection in dollars of property damage avoided, but it also suggests that the protection of valuable public infrastructure can be leveraged to simultaneously protect vulnerable coastal communities.