President Obama’s top environmental advisers lauded South Florida for racing ahead of other regions of the United States in preparing for high sea levels.
They spoke Wednesday to more than 500 South Florida public officials, scientists, business people and environmentalists at the Miami Beach Convention Center for the Southeast Florida Climate Leadership Summit.
“You simply don’t have time to endure the incredibly frustrating political debate that is consuming a lot of the oxygen in the city where we work,” said Mike Boots, acting chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. “You all are seeing these impacts at your doorstep today, and like any responsible person in that instance, you’re acting, and that action is noticed by us who are enduring the other side of that debate.”
The group represents Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe and Palm Beach counties, which agreed in 2010 to coordinate their responses to sea-level rise, pooling resources to research adaptations such as raising roads, reducing flooding and steering development away from low-lying areas.
The summit comes at the time of the annual king tides, seasonal high tides that flood parts of coastal areas such as the Las Olas Isles section of Fort Lauderdale, the Lakes section of Hollywood and several areas of Miami Beach. These tides give a hint of what the region could face year-round, with a few inches of sea-level rise.
Sea levels have risen about nine inches in the past century. Estimates of future rise vary greatly, but the four counties are working from federal estimates that predict increases of three to seven inches by 2030 and nine inches to two feet by 2060. Palm Beach County and northern Broward County are least vulnerable, except for coastal areas, since they stand at a higher elevation than the other land in the region.
John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said the realities of climate change have begun to hit the United States in many forms.
“It’s already associated with increased flooding in some parts of the country, intensified droughts, longer wildfire seasons, and more hot days practically everywhere,” he said. “Sea level rise, of course, is a reality, as people here in Miami and Miami Beach already know. It’s associated with local flooding, it’s associated with more damaging storm surges during tropical storms. There’s increasing evidence that at least in some regions, the storms themselves are becoming more powerful.”
Jennifer Jurado, Broward County‘s director of natural resource planning and management, said several changes are in the works as the county adapts to a higher ocean.
Among these are new design standards for roads, flood control systems and other infrastructure. The county will work to make it easier for homes and businesses to switch to solar power. Also likely to be seen in the next few years are many more pump systems, mainly installed by cities, to address flooding before a major storm hits.
In Delray Beach, where high tides bring flooding to the historic Marina neighborhood along the west side of the Intracoastal Waterway, the city has established a sea-level rise task force, said John Morgan, the city’s sustainability officer.
“We’re already getting flooding like they get here in Miami Beach,” he said. “It’s coming up out of our storm drains.”
The city is installing valves to block the water. Several steps are likely in the coming months, he said, such as some revisions to the city’s comprehensive plan and changes to its stormwater management plan.
South Florida’s flat landscape makes it particularly vulnerable, compared to many other coastal areas.
Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine called on the nation to face the hard evidence that the oceans are rising.
“When the water rises, it doesn’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat, conservative or liberal, black or Hispanic,” he said.
To keep its streets dry, his city is installing special valves to prevent seawater from flowing up through storm sewers, and has plans to add 60 pumps, including three on an emergency basis on lower Alton Road, which experiences severe tidal flooding
While Miami Beach is famous for its tourist attractions, he said, “We want to be known and remembered for something else — as a city that cared enough to secure its future.”
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