Emergent Pathways of Groundwater Contamination: Sea-Level Induced Groundwater Rise on Hazardous Sites of the San Francisco Bay

Authors: Kate Lenahan*, University of California - Berkeley
Topics: Hazards and Vulnerability, Water Resources and Hydrology
Keywords: Sea level rise, water, water quality, political ecology, landscape, contamination, toxicity, groundwater
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Napoleon B1, Sheraton 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The encroachment of groundwater upon buried hazardous artifacts and materials introduces a pressing dimension of predicted water quality decline within the discourse of sea level rise adaptation. As groundwater advances in a lens above saltwater, it will inevitably encounter Superfund sites and brownfields, unlined dumps and waste disposal sites, and underground infrastructures susceptible to damage by hydrostatic pressure and eventually saltwater corrosion. In urbanized coastal areas, volatile contaminants may furthermore penetrate wastewater lines, transporting them into and under houses and businesses. My research examines the potential socio-ecological impacts of groundwater rise and associated contamination pathways under current sea level rise projections in the San Francisco Bay. As design research, this proposal (re-)claims the underground as a site of intervention. Geospatial mapping and analysis project bay-scale patterns of exposure, indicating where socio-economically vulnerable populations and sensitive ecosystems will likely converge with toxicity mobilized through the groundwater table. Illustrative drawings offer a descriptive framework to explore hydro-geochemical pathways of contaminant transport within landscapes inhabited both below- and aboveground. In delineating relationships between toxicity sources, landscape process and structure, and community characteristics, I explore spatial methods and opportunities to mitigate impacts. Through case study, I propose and contextualize landscape design strategies that negotiate the interface between contaminants, ecologies, and communities in West Oakland, setting precedent for adaptive interventions elsewhere. As new research, the proposal suggests that management of rising groundwater and mitigation of diffuse toxicity in cities present two challenges that landscape adaptation can better address together.

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