Waters in San Francisco Bay will likely be 40 centimeters higher in 40 years thanks to climate change. That may sound like a drop in the bucket for the famously hilly city, but the upper estimate for the next century—tides up 1.4 meters—could threaten buildings and city infrastructure, especially in the case of warming-fueled storm surges.

“We are going to have to deal with the issue of protecting the airports, Silicon Valley and downtown San Francisco much sooner than we thought,” the executive director of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission told The Oakland Tribune.

To help get the ball rolling on local solutions to the global problem, the commission partnered with the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to create the Rising Tide contest, which brought in 131 bright ideas from around the world for how to hold off the coming high tides (short of stopping glacial melt).

After being unable to choose just one stellar proposal, the jury decided to divide the prize money ($25,000) among six smart winners. The winning projects include a large fabric barrier to hold back high tides, an inverted “folding” levee that separates bay from sea and a reinstallation of marshlands in developed areas.

That the bay waters have risen about 20 centimeters in the past century has some local planners concerned already.

“We are going to have to be thinking about this and preparing for it,” the commission director, Will Travis, told the Tribune. “We don’t want to be in the Hurricane Katrina situation, where you deal with fixing the levees after the city has flooded.” 

Image of the bay from space courtesy of NASA via Wikimedia Commons