South Florida counties working to find solution to rising seas

Posted Nov 12, 2013 by Karen Graham
Florida is one of the most populous of our southern states and also the most vulnerable. With most of its 1,197 miles of coastline only a few feet above the rising seas, there is the very real danger of South Florida being lost in less than 100 years.
An aerial view of the southern tip of the Florida Everglades.  It is a flowing river of freshwater  ...
An aerial view of the southern tip of the Florida Everglades. It is a flowing river of freshwater, moving 0.25 miles per day out of Lake Okeechobee and into the Florida Bay.
After the land boom of the 1920's and the resulting prosperity the U.S. enjoyed after WWII, Florida, one of the least populous states at that time, became a tourist mecca and retiree's haven as it moved forward into the mid-20th century. Today, with a population of over 19 million residents, it is our fourth largest state and the most populous state in the southeastern U.S.
South Florida is a wonderland of sub-tropical beaches and warm sands. With its barrier islands, Florida's "string of pearls," the Florida Keys hangs down like a heavy pendent of precious jewels on a dowager's neck.
Satellite view of the south Florida keys.
Satellite view of the south Florida keys.
Further north from the tip of Florida is the Sea of Grass, the Everglades. A vast, slowly moving river of freshwater, a natural habitat for mammals, alligators, cranes, snakes and fishes, a paradise hovering on the edge of a calamity to come.
With all that Florida has to offer its residents and visitors, there is another side to this picture. Florida has a long history of devastating hurricanes, costing billions of dollars in loss of property, homes and business, not to mention the loss of lives. Then there is the heavy thunderstorms that seem to hit with regularity almost every single day.
A two-day conference was held in Ft. Lauderdale last week, attended by officials from most of South Florida's cities and counties, as well as many officials from northern coastal Florida areas. The subject was Climate-Change.
What the attendees heard was some devastating facts and predictions. Florida has over 1,197 miles of coastline, and most of it is only three feet above the rising ocean levels. Not only that, but the geology of the state makes it particularly vulnerable to seawater encroachment. Florida sits on a porous plateau of karst limestone, and it leeches water like crazy.
With rising sea levels, it is predicted that South Florida will be under six feet or more of water before the end of the century. Harold R. Wanless, the chairman of the geological sciences department at the University of Miami, said in an interview last week that, I don’t think people realize how vulnerable Florida is. We’re going to get four or five or six feet of water, or more, by the end of the century. You have to wake up to the reality of what’s coming.”
Four South Florida counties, Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe and Palm Beach, were interested enough in taking action that they formed a coalition to start working on finding solutions to the problem. Between the four counties, they share a population of 5.6 million people. With the interest generated by the conference, it was not really surprising that at the state Capital in Tallahassee, lawmakers were mum on the idea of the rising sea.
Fisher Island is one of Florida s barrier islands. The northern part of the island is also part of t...
Fisher Island is one of Florida's barrier islands. The northern part of the island is also part of the City of Miami Beach, Florida.
It's a question of economics over the reality of looming disaster, even if it is 100 years in the future. It's business, real estate ventures and tourism that drive the state's economy today, and nobody wants to rock that boat.
Wayne Pathman, who is a Miami land-use lawyer and Chamber of Commerce board member, attended the Fort Lauderdale conference. He said the business community wasn't really interested yet. He went on, They’re not affected yet. They really haven’t grasped the possibilities.
Ben Strauss, the director of the Program on Sea Level Rise at Climate Central, an independent organization of scientists, also had something to say about the lack of interest the business community seems to be showing. He assured others at the conference that the public would come around to the reality of climate-change, especially when they see the sea coming inland.
With over 10 million people living in South Florida, we are talking about more than $156 billion in property values and over 300,000 homes, all in an area covering 2,120 sq. miles. And one of the biggest indicators of the crisis to come will be leveled at two issues.
One is the insurance industry. It will come to pass that the industry will refuse to handle the risk in coastal areas exposed to the rising waters. The second issue will be the decrease in real estate value on land sitting in the path of encroaching seawater. Until that time, it is going to become imperative that land and property owners look toward moving further inland.
Miami beach is another city looking for solutions. Miami Beach city manager, Jimmy L. Morales said he has already been talking with his staff about taking more aggressive action on climate-change. Although they are talking with officials from the Netherlands, famous for their dikes and levee systems, it has already become apparent that the topography of the Miami Beach area will not make that kind of system effective.
This will obviously not be feasible for many businesses and tourist attractions, the loss of the infrastructure alone could be in the billions of dollars, and that's not counting the loss in property itself. There are many things that can be done as far as starting to work on the problem now. One suggestion is a moratorium on any future developments and building programs.
Whatever the communities decide to do, one thing is certain, and that is the water. The sea will continue on its relentless path, and man will have little say on the outcome. All we can do is learn to live with it and try to accommodate it. After all, it is much bigger than we are.