Network Member of the Month: Laura Engeman

Laura Engeman is the director of the San Diego Regional Climate Collaborative where she works to bring together public agencies, nonprofits, community foundations, utilities, scientists, and local managers to find regional solutions for climate adaptation.

We have to really work together to think about solutions that benefit our whole community.” -Laura Engeman

An interview with the Member of the Month:

Can you tell us more about the NOAA Coastal Resiliency Grant that the Collaborative was just awarded and what that will entail in San Diego?
The NOAA Grant is really a cornerstone and a keystone to providing regional coordination and consistency for coastal resilience in San Diego. We had a little bit of money from the state to get us started, but this federal grant really provides this great backbone of support that bridges and connects the dots between all of these different efforts and initiatives. It gives us the opportunity to provide additional technical expertise to look at the legal implications of some of these strategies for mitigating coastal hazards.

It provides us with extra support to look at the costs and really cost compare between different [solutions, such as] armoring or building dunes, or these new and creative ideas for mitigating climate change. It also gives us the opportunity to engage and really bring in the scientists and to translate the science information into actual action on the ground.

As a region, a lot of what we are looking at in terms of climate impacts are really happening at the local level. We are seeing it in our backyard, we are seeing it on our beaches and oceans, and that takes some forward thinking from our government. We have to really work together to think about solutions that benefit our whole community.

Can you talk more about the specific adaptation work happening here in Del Mar and your regional coordination efforts?
The City of Del Mar is looking at how their community is vulnerable to sea level rise and future and more frequent coastal storms. They are a really small community nestled in the middle of San Diego County. They have their lagoons, they have their beaches, so they are grappling with very tough choices, and these tough choices do not come without costs. The ability of our grant is to support the City of Del Mar in engaging in this dialogue with their community residents, with their businesses, and in really understanding what those hard choices are; what they choose as a community to do in terms of solutions is a very, very important and significant milestone in our efforts to address climate change.

This [project] is really unique because we have this opportunity where we have five cities working together to solve regional issues, to really look at climate impacts to our entire San Diego County, and how we can address them… It allows us to think regionally, and work together as a region. We have a lot of different dynamics that do not allow cities to think just within their boundaries… we have a lot of infrastructure that bridges jurisdictions. Our port and our airport serve the entire region. We have train tracks that run the entire length of the coast, we have wetlands that cross boundaries, we have dredging in harbors that is placed on the beaches in neighboring cities, and these things have to be coordinated and have to evolve into consistent strategies that -as a region- we choose to do. Having one person operate without their neighbor, or without the other regional entities at the table, really affects all of us in terms of how we protect our coastline and natural resources… this grant really provides us this backbone of financial support to bridge that dialogue, connect those dots and leverage each other in a more regional application.

Why are you a part of the California Coastal Resilience Network?
We are looking at connecting with coastal cities all across the state, because we are all facing the same challenges. As a member of the California Coastal Resilience network, we are connecting with other cities and really understanding how they are viewing these challenges. We might be slightly different in terms of beach landscapes, but everyone is dealing with flooding, everyone is dealing with losses of beaches, everyone is potentially losing infrastructure. We have to work together to really understand how to address these challenges and build a state-wide solution in terms of policy frameworks, and in terms of how we move forward in addressing climate change.

As a member of the California Coastal Resilience Network, we are able to not only recognize that we are not alone in this, and our cities recognize that they are not grappling with issues that no other cities are grappling with. We are working together as an entire state to address the coastal hazards that we see coming our way, and to understand innovative and creative solutions that others are using and that can be applied in our region here in San Diego as well.

What is your personal connection to the coast? What motivates you to work in this field?
I am a California native. I grew up in Sacramento, but I moved to the coast fairly young, and I have never left the coast since. I love the coast and the ocean – I have studied it and worked in this field for over a decade. I worked at the state level, and that was fantastic, but I really felt like climate impacts and coastal change happens within our small communities. I made a move to come down here in San Diego to be on the other side of the equation where I am working at the heart of where the impacts are happening, and where I am seeing and talking with community members, and government agencies that are taking action so that we can really develop solutions for the future.

The time is ripe for us to take action now. We just recently saw some severe impacts from the last El Nino in terms of flooding and coastal storms, and we are recognizing that if we take action now, we might be able to ward of some of these coastal hazards that are coming in the future.