It’s king tide season again in South Florida, when an intrusive sea lifts fancy boats to street levels, forces tourists to slosh their way through thoroughfares, and sends cities rushing to erect barricades.
Cities and counties all around South Florida are acting not only on their own initiatives, but in concert with others to find ways to defend against sea-level rise and high seasonal tides that accompany it.
In June, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that rising sea levels and frequent storms set flood records across the United States in 2017 and warned that 2018 could be worse. That presents an increasing challenge for Fort Lauderdale, Miami Beach and other South Florida cities where high tides can inundate low-lying neighborhoods.
A new study conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that a million Florida homes worth $351 billion will be at risk from tidal flooding by the year 2100, with 64,000 of today’s residential properties statewide “at risk of chronic inundation” by 2045.
Whether local policymakers are responding directly to the latest alarm bells, or to a growing perception that existing infrastructures and property values cannot withstand many more years of passive policy-making — anecdotal evidence shows that local governments are taking heed. A sampling:
Fort Lauderdale’s preparations this year include the installation of more tidal valves (it now has 152), completing designs for stormwater projects in seven neighborhoods, expediting new seawalls in vulnerable island areas, lining stormwater pipes and piloting a project to install high water signs on flooded streets.
In Palm Beach County, planners and resiliency officers from a consortium of coastline cities including Boca Raton, Delray Beach, Boynton Beach, Lantana and Lake Worth met Aug. 24 to discuss how to deal with infrastructure vulnerabilities from encroaching waters, said Megan Houston, director of the country’s Office of Resilience.
Miami Beach, Miami, and West Palm Beach jointly signed up in early August for help from Colombia University’s Center for Resilient Cities and Landscapes to advance existing infrastructure projects. Some include areas vulnerable to rising waters such as Monceau Park in West Palm Beach, West Avenue in Miami Beach and Brickell Bay Drive in Miami, where aging seawalls and streets have proven themselves unable to handle surging stormwaters.
The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact has scheduled an annual summit for Oct. 24-25 in Miami Beach, marking a decade of collaborative work in identifying the threats of rising seas and finding ways to deal with them.
Jayantha Obeysekera, director of the Sea Level Solutions Center, agreed flooding is a chronic problem regionwide. “Seawalls will stop storm surge and sea-level rise, but you need to think about the flood control on the interiors.”
Academics say that although South Florida has received a more glaring media spotlight over high tides and flooding than many other areas in the country, the region’s local governments deserve more credit for their responses than they’re receiving.
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