WEST PALM BEACH — The South Florida Water Management District considered the threat of sea level rise at the June 13 meeting in West Palm Beach.
“When we think about issues of community resilience, it is largely a function of community issues relating to water. They include rising sea levels that affect the management of our water management systems and contributes to coastal inundation,” said Jennifer Jurado, Director of Broward County Environmental Planning and Chief Resiliency Officer.
“The entire water management system relies on our ability to discharge water to tide during extreme rainfall events,” she said.
“As we lose discharge capacity because of rising seas, the tail end of the system, it has implication of causing all of the water to back up in our system.”
Increased storm intensity, delivering more rainfall can deliver 20 inches of rainfall in a day, she continued.
“Rising seas also affect our water supply,” she said. Seal level rise increases the rate that salt water moves into the aquifer, intercepting the coastal wells.
Water quality is also impacted, she continued. “As we have a decreased ability to hold water in our systems because we are losing capacity and we have to pump as quickly as possible, moving that water off our landscape, it means that water is not being treated as well. So we have a greater volume of water and a lesser level of treatment and under warming temperatures, we know that contributes to the types of blooms that are plaguing all of our communities,” she said.
She said the coastal communities and inland areas face flooding issues. For example, she said heavy rainfall over a period of three days forced Sawgrass Mills close, resulting in the loss of $30 million in economic activity.
“Many of our communities will say it is simply wet all the time. A lot of our storage system has just been tapped because of the amount of development that has taken place and we have a system that is decades and decades old,” she said.
These are the types of challenges that have brought Broward, Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties working together on addressing the shared challenges of climate change and sea level rise. “Together we represent 109 cities that account for about a third of our state’s population and economy,” Ms. Jurado explained.
She said the counties have agreed to a compact to work together to develop a regional action plan to set an overall foundation for addressing this issue.
The four counties have worked together to develop sea level rise projections, with help from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the South Florida Water Management District, federal agencies and academic institutions. The sea level rise predictions, first developed in 2012, were updated in 2015.
“Now we are in the process of updating this projection again,” she continued.
“We all reference 2 feet of sea level rise as the planning projection for 2060,” she said. This is also the high projection on the plan used by the corps, she added.
She said the Central and South Florida Flood Control System is critical for flood control for the four counties.
“Florida continues to build in the most vulnerable areas where we shouldn’t be building,” said Drew Martin of the Sierra Club. “We tend to use fill under the assumption that we can raise our way out of the problem. We really can’t raise our way out of the problem because it’s going to come faster than that.
“We need to encourage people to get flood insurance and look at areas that are low-lying and consider purchasing some of those areas so we don’t have to flood protect them,” he said.
Instead of seawalls the state should promote natural shorelines, he said.
“Raising seawalls and barriers can actually trap people if the water is coming from the other direction,” he explained.
Mr. Martin said it’s also important to protect the coral reefs.
“If water quality is really bad and we don’t protect our coral reefs, we don’t have that protection against storm surge,” he said.
“We need to look at our golf courses that are being abandoned and use those to put water on,” Mr. Martin said. “We need to look at land that is not being used and use it to put water on.”
Mark Perry of the Florida Oceanographic Society said Floridians need “to stop building in wetlands.”
He said water conservation is also important in coastal areas because overdrawing the aquifer increases saltwater intrusion.
“Flood insurance does not reflect the most current flooding data,” said Erin Deady of Delray Beach.
“The average wet season water table of today is not going to be the wet season water table of tomorrow,” she said. “Wetlands are our first line of defense.”