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Living On The Edge: South Florida's Ongoing Battle With Sea Level Rise

June 22, 2023

South Florida, with its breathtaking beaches, vibrant coastal cities, and unique ecosystems, has long been a sought-after destination for residents and tourists alike. However, the region's allure comes with a price: it is one of the most flood-prone areas in the United States. In recent years, the impact of Sea Level Rise has become increasingly evident, posing a significant threat to the region's Infrastructure, Economy, and the lives of its residents. This article aims to explore the extent of flooding risks in South Florida and delve into the changes in Sea Level Rise that the region has witnessed over time.

The phenomenon of Sea Level Rise is a result of two primary factors: the melting of polar ice caps and the expansion of seawater as it warms. South Florida is on the front lines of this escalating crisis. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Sea Levels in the region have risen by approximately nine inches since 1950, exceeding the global average.

South Florida's Geography makes it inherently susceptible to flooding. The region sits on a low-lying limestone base, and its porous nature allows water to seep through, exacerbating the Flood risk. Furthermore, the area's extensive network of canals, drainage systems, and artificial waterways, essential for managing water levels, are increasingly strained due to Rising Sea Levels.

Researchers at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science predict that by 2050, South Florida may experience an additional 10 to 17 inches of Sea Level Rise. Such projections have spurred urgent action by local governments, scientists, and community organizations to mitigate the impacts.

Over the past few decades, South Florida has witnessed the consequences of Rising Sea Levels firsthand. High Tides and King Tides, exacerbated by Sea Level Rise, cause regular flooding in low-lying areas. Saltwater Intrusion, where Seawater infiltrates Freshwater supplies, poses a significant threat to South Florida's drinking water resources.

Miami-Dade's Plan
Miami-Dade County, home to over 2.7 million residents, is particularly vulnerable to flooding. A 2020 report by the Risky Business Project ranked Miami as the city most at risk in terms of financial losses due to Sea Level Rise. Other coastal cities in South Florida, including Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, face similar challenges.

In 2021 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed a plan to protect the Miami-Dade coast from flooding and storm surge. The project was in dispute, particularly their idea of a large concrete flood wall. At stake are billions of dollars. One sticking point was a proposed flood wall running parallel to Miami’s waterfront, a looming concrete structure that some local city and business leaders argued would sink property values.

Following the strong opposition from local residents and environmental groups, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has agreed to revise the controversial Miami-Dade plan to fight Sea Level Rise. Instead of constructing towering walls and flood gates to protect against worsening storm surge and Sea Level Rise, the Corps will explore more natural solutions that can also benefit the deteriorating Biscayne Bay.

In a letter released by Miami-Dade County, the Corps expressed its willingness to allocate an additional $8.2 Million and invest up to five years to ensure the effectiveness of the plan.

Assistant Secretary of the Army, Michael Connor, emphasized the need for a balanced approach that not only enhances project performance but also safeguards the environment and upholds equity within the community. This decision comes after Mayor Daniella Levine Cava and others lobbied against the original $4.6 Billion plan, which included a mile-long flood wall along the bay's shores and flood gates across the Miami River, Little River, and Biscayne Canal.

Miami-Dade County had requested the Corps to allow time for presenting an alternative proposal, taking advantage of the 60-40 cost share offered under nationwide efforts to bolster shorelines against increasingly severe storm surges resulting from climate change.

Initiated three years ago with a planning budget of no more than $3 Million, the Back Bay study focused on fortifying Biscayne Bay to withstand Rising Sea Levels and the destructive impact of hurricane storm surge. However, the proposal of floodgates and a meandering flood wall faced widespread opposition, prompting the Corps to reconsider its approach.

Bague, a former member of the South Florida Water Management District's governing board, commended the Corps for its unprecedented willingness to pivot in response to local concerns. This decision reflects the importance of the region and the numerous ongoing projects supported by the Corps, particularly those related to Everglades Restoration.

While the Corps indicated that the extended planning phase might take up to five years, Mayor Levine Cava expressed hope that a new study could be finalized and incorporated into the upcoming Biennial Water and Infrastructure Act, scheduled for Congress in 2024.

"We're not starting from scratch; we're capitalizing on areas of agreement," stated Levine Cava. She stressed the need for people to comprehend the high stakes and associated risks, as well as the tradeoffs involved. The revised plan not only focuses on water management but also encourages a forward-thinking approach to address future challenges.

Battling The Tides
Broward County is a trailblazer in the fight against this existential threat and has adopted an ambitious vision that prioritizes resilience and sustainability. Recognizing that Sea Level Rise is an inevitable challenge, county officials, in collaboration with environmental experts, have developed a comprehensive plan to adapt and protect their communities.

To combat the encroaching tides, Broward County has embraced adaptive measures that promote a sustainable future. This includes the integration of resilient infrastructure, such as elevated roadways and seawalls, to safeguard against flooding. Additionally, the county has implemented strict building codes and land-use regulations that require new developments to adhere to flood-resistant design principles, ensuring the long-term viability of coastal communities.

Broward County also recognizes the importance of preserving its natural ecosystems, not only for their ecological value but also for their role in mitigating Sea Level Rise. The county has embarked on an extensive restoration program, reclaiming and enhancing wetlands and dunes to provide a natural buffer against rising tides. These efforts not only protect vulnerable habitats and wildlife but also provide valuable storm surge protection to the surrounding areas.

Broward County is pioneering the use of cutting-edge technology and innovative solutions to combat Sea Level Rise. By partnering with research institutions and private enterprises, the county is exploring advanced techniques, such as artificial reefs and living shorelines, to reduce erosion and enhance the resilience of its coastline. Moreover, Broward County has embraced data-driven decision-making, utilizing predictive modeling and real-time monitoring systems to stay ahead of the changing coastal conditions.

Recognizing that tackling Sea Level Rise requires a collective effort, Broward County actively engages with its residents and stakeholders. The county conducts educational campaigns, public forums, and workshops to raise awareness about the issue and involve the community in the decision-making process. By fostering partnerships with local businesses, community organizations, and neighboring counties, Broward County is building a united front against the challenges of Sea Level Rise.

While Broward County's efforts are commendable, the battle against Sea Level Rise is ongoing. The county continues to refine its strategies, incorporating new findings and technologies as they emerge. It remains committed to maintaining a sustainable future, balancing the needs of its growing population with the imperative to protect its coastline and natural resources.

Broward County's proactive approach to mitigating Sea Level Rise along its coast serves as an inspiration to communities worldwide. Through its visionary leadership, adaptation strategies, preservation efforts, innovative solutions, and inclusive engagement, Broward County is setting an example of resilience and sustainability. As the waves of change continue to test our coastlines, Broward County stands firm, determined to protect its communities and pave the way for a brighter, more resilient future.

Living in a flood-prone area like South Florida comes with unique challenges, exacerbated by the ongoing issue of Sea Level Rise. The region's geographical characteristics and vulnerable coastal cities make it particularly susceptible to the impacts of Rising Sea Levels. With projections pointing to further increases in the coming decades, there is an urgent need for comprehensive measures to adapt and mitigate the effects.

Addressing the issue requires a multi-pronged approach, involving Infrastructure improvements, coastal restoration, and sustainable development practices. Collaborative efforts among government agencies, scientists, and the local community are crucial to ensuring the resilience and long-term viability of South Florida. By embracing innovative solutions and fostering an awareness of the impacts of climate change, the region can forge a path towards a more sustainable and resilient future.

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