Climate-induced flooding: FL planning its defense but leaves causes unaddressed

Meanwhile, climate conditions continue to deteriorate

By: - February 22, 2022 6:41 pm

Neighborhood flooding in Fort Lauderdale after a rainstorm is an common occurrence. Credit: Jillian Cain/Getty Images, 2020

Sea-level rise and inland flooding that will damage thousands of homes and cause billions of dollars in real-estate losses in Florida were high-priority subjects Tuesday in a Senate Appropriations hearing.

That subcommittee approved two bills authorizing a defense, but neither attempts to reduce air pollution that causes climate change and worsening flooding.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment, and General Government approved Senate Bill 1940 by Sen. Jason Brodeur, a Republican representing Volusia and Seminole counties, to reset state support for flood resiliency projects from a maximum of $100 million a year to a minimum of that amount, reflecting existing and anticipated needs.

It also would establish an Office of Statewide Resilience within the governor’s office — although it does not dictate the office’s duties — and requires the state Department of Transportation to develop plans to make Florida roadways less vulnerable to flooding.

A national climate assessment estimates that $300 billion in real estate value will be lost in Florida due to coastal and inland flooding by 2100.

No one spoke against the bill, which cities and counties support because it would help their communities pay for resilience projects — ones less likely to fail when flooded. However, Jonathan Webber, with Florida Conservation Voters, is among parties who say the legislation could and should be stronger.

“Our two main concerns with the bill are [the absence of] charge or direction to the chief resilience officer … and there is nothing about reducing our reliance on dirty fossil fuels,” Webber told the Phoenix following the hearing.

“Resiliency means making yourself more prepared for future problems. Ignoring the problem is not ‘resilient.’ It’s incomplete without a greenhouse gas-reduction plan.”

The post of chief resilience officer, created by Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2019, has been vacant more than occupied.

Also approved was Senate Bill 1434, sponsored by Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez, a Miami-Dade Republican, expands the scope of publicly financed construction projects that are subject to sea-level-rise risk assessments before they may commence.

Sen. Lori Berman, a Palm Beach Democrat, commended the legislation for broadening a 2020 law sponsored by former Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez that was the first climate-related legislation ever adopted in Florida. (Rodriguez, a Miami-Dade Democrat, was defeated in his bid for re-election in a tight three-way race tainted by allegations that a Republican operative interfered by putting up a spoiler candidate also named Rodriguez.)

“We all know sea level rise is a huge problem here,” Berman said.

Rising seas will increasingly flood coastal areas due to greenhouse gases already emitted and more to come, according to NOAA and its partner agencies. Projected flooding is in red. Credit: NOAA

Coastal and inland flooding is increasing and will not stop for decades, if ever, according to climate scientists, including those with the Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flood Hazard and Tools Interagency Task Force, a joint project of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Aeronautic and Atmospheric Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Army Corps of Engineers, with support from the U.S. Department of Defense Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program.

The report says sea level will rise nearly a foot in densely populated areas such as Miami-Dade and Clearwater by 2040 and roughly 1.5 feet by 2050.

Sea level along U.S. coastlines will rise by 10-12 inches on average in the next 30 years — equivalent to all the increase measured over the past century, according to the interagency technical report, last updated in 2017.

“Sea level rise will create a profound shift in coastal flooding over the next 30 years by causing tide and storm surge heights to increase and reach further inland. By 2050, ‘moderate’ (typically damaging) flooding is expected to occur, on average, more than 10 times as often as it does today and can be intensified by local factors,” the report says.

The interagency task force says humankind must cut greenhouse gas emissions to slow the warming of Earth’s atmosphere that is causing sea level to rise, inland heat and rainfall to intensify, and storms to worsen.

“About 2 feet of sea level rise along the U.S. coastline is increasingly likely between 2020 and 2100 because of emissions [already emitted] to date,” the report says. “Failing to curb future emissions could cause an additional 1.5-5 feet of rise for a total of 3.5-7 feet by the end of this century.”

Florida has 1,350 miles of coastlines and few areas are much above sea level.

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Laura Cassels
Laura Cassels

Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper.