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Rising sea levels more than just South Florida’s costly problem, officials say

by John Kennedy | February 13th, 2013

South Florida lawmakers got a stark look Wednesday at how rising sea levels could dramatically change Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade counties and the Keys in coming years, leading to calls for more state aid to stem the tide.

County planners and water managers from officials presented an 84-page action plan to regional legislators that was compiled last fall. While climate change has caused sea level to climb nine inches over the past century, that rate is accelerating and could advance an at least an additional nine inches over the next 50 years, analysts have concluded.

Evidence of the changes are already being seen across South Florida, where regional flooding and saltwater intrusion is becoming common in area canals and waterways. Several lawmakers said a goal for this spring’s legislative session should be to convince more of their colleagues that South Florida’s problems have a statewide impact.

“We’ve got to convince the rest of the state that this is an economic disaster,” said Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth. “We can’t wait for sea levels to keep rising. We’ve got to plan for the future.”

Making more funding available for the region is a likely push, said Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, chairman of the Palm Beach County legislative delegation, who organized Wednesday’s hearing. “This demands our attention,” he said.

Officials speaking at Wednesday’s hearing offered plenty of anecdotes about South Florida’s changing coastline. In Broward County, several waterside neighborhoods commonly flood during high tides; on Stock Island, in the Keys, Monroe County officials are elevating the ground floor of a new fire station, in anticipation of future flooding, officials said. Roads, sewer systems and development decisions will all be affected by the changing water line across the region, officials said.

In Palm Beach County, Everglades restoration efforts could be slowed by rising saltwater intrusion, hurting water management efforts, said Ernie Barnett of the South Florida Water Management District.

“You can fight water with water,” Barnett said. “We need to push more water through the Everglades toward the coast.”

The report by local officials included some sobering conclusions about the impact of rising water on the area.

The report found, “The upper estimate of current taxable property values in Monroe, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties vulnerable in the one-foot scenario is $4 billion with values rising to more than $31 billion at the three-foot scenario. The greater values reflected in the financial impacts are coastal residential properties with ocean access and high taxable value.”

But Rep. Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton, offered a darker view. He said lawmakers and county officials will have a challenging time convincing many Florida leaders to direct dollars toward fighting what he said was an inevitable change.

“We can do this stuff,” Hager said. “But inevitably, the cycles of the earth will overcome whatever we do.”

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7 Responses to “Rising sea levels more than just South Florida’s costly problem, officials say”

  1. Big Daddy Says:

    They want to live on the beach, let them pay for. Shouldn’t be the taxpayers problem.

  2. Wake up Says:

    Big Daddy, if you think this is just a problem for people who live on the beach, talk to a scientist or two. A rise in seas level in south Florida will cause widespread problems and a serious loss of our economic engine. If you’re not underwater, your taxes will triple just to pay for the lost revenue. Oh, and as an aside, people on the beach pay taxes too. In fact, far more than you.

  3. HankS Says:

    Don’t worry, the Pres. will bypass Congress and issue executive orders to lower the world’s oceans. I’ve done my part by installing a CFL light bulb.

  4. Stephen Malagodi Says:

    The last two paragraphs lay out the political choices that will be presented to us. One, which will be the Democratic and Business Republican position, will be one of massive funding to contrators for ‘mitigation’. This position assumes we will continue with our ‘all of the above’ energy policy and we’ll be able to ‘manage’ the outcome.

    The other, which will be a position taken by Tea Party and Libertarian fundamentalists will be ‘let nature take it’s course’ and ‘too bad for you, sea-level dwellers’.

    In some areas mitigation might be possible [though not for many in the so-called developing countries, who can't afford it]. In others, like the area south of the Miami River, it’s impossible. Nevertheless, I’m sure a lot of money will be made by the construction industry in an attempt to save what was from the beginning, an unsustainable endeavor; building a metropolis in a sea-level swamp on the end of a peninsula.

    Oh well. And the Libertarians will be quite content to see homeowners in South Miami ruined as the value of their mortgages drops to zero when no insurance company will write affordable policies. The purity of their ideological free-market holiness will provide much satisfaction to the believers.

    So, rather than accept these two positions, perhaps another, more radical idea could be entertained; a buyout and bailout fund for South Miami homeowners. We’ll it the “Relocation Assistance Program” just to be less provocative.

    A twenty-year phased withdrawl, starting now.

  5. OBIWAN Says:

    9 inches over 50 years?

    Gore predicted 3 feet in 20 years === and that didn’t come true either?

    How about every year South Florida is exposed to $50 Billion in ‘wind’ catastrophe WHEN the next Andrew strikes just 30 miles further north than last time? Or is that $100 Billion?

    We just ‘bailed out’ those NE Democrat states over $50 Billion as they failed miserably to do the infrastructure they needed to survive a CAT 1 storm…
    … and you want us to worry about nine inches in 50 years?

  6. kelly Says:

    Since “the cycles of earth will overcome whatever we do” says the republican, let’s do nothing. Hard to believe we elect public officials with so much lack of vision.

  7. LicenseToSteal Says:

    No problem. El presidente is ready to print $1 trillion to send large coolers to the poles to stop the climate change and save Florida.

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