By Christian Flinn
This story is part of Warwick Group Consultant’s ongoing coverage of resilience efforts in South Florida – with particular emphasis on Miami-Dade County. You can read a previous article on the issue here.
A new study published by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has used storm surge data compiled by the Army Corps of Engineers to predict new flooding patterns in South Florida by the year 2045. These predictions reveal that while flood events in Miami-Dade County could increase from 45 to 80 a year by the year 2030 (assuming 10 inches of sea-level rise), they could grow exponentially to over 380 a year by 2045. In order to explain the severity of these claims, it is key to understand another study, published by the Corps and the County in conjunction, titled Unified Sea Level Rise Projection. In it, the Corps outlines the likelihood and consequences of a one-foot increase in sea level in the County by the year 2040. Put simply, that one-foot change puts around “$6.4 billion in taxable real estate” at risk. The good news? Valuable property in harms’ way and a wealthy County responsible for that property create a type of best-case risk scenario: one characterized by strong enough incentive to both invest in finding solutions and plan for the future.
While these goals are intertwined, it is key for the first of the two – finding solutions – to identify specific problem areas to address. For the County, this means attempting to mitigate for and overcome “a high water table, [frequent flooding], porous limestone bedrock, and low elevation.” The second goal – planning for the future – must be ever present when addressing these issues, as incorporating solutions into a long-term resilience plan is the most effective way to minimize the detrimental effects of sea level rise and protect life and property. In Miami, long-term planning has taken the form of a $500 million city-wide pump project as well as a strategy to raise sidewalks by up to 2 feet in certain parts of the city. The ambitious plan is a step in the right direction but other considerations must be made if Miami is to serve as an example of successful mitigation of sea level rise.
First, long-term resilience planning takes into account differences in residents’ financial resources and physical locations. The State of Florida, and in particular governor Rick Scott, has had a complicated relationship with the concepts of climate change and sea level rise. While Miami’s efforts represent a new attitude toward the issue, finding funding to address inequalities within the County has been a long and often fruitless process. The problem is that the vast majority of financing for sea level mitigation efforts has come from a bond issuance program and a higher water utility tax. Inevitably, this means that some less affluent – and incidentally lower-lying – parts of the County, like Miami’s poorer neighbor Hialeah, cannot foot the bill for certain projects with resident income alone. It also means, in most cases, the increased vulnerability of these populations. With the hesitant State of Florida being the main partner in the County’s efforts, and the Federal government not providing adequate funding, issues of where the projects are most needed and who will be protected regrettably arise. Overcoming this, either through increased aid from the Federal government or alternative sources of financing, will demonstrate the viability of these mitigation efforts in large metropolitan areas and be the first test cities like Miami will need to pass in order to hold up to scrutiny.
Second, long-term mitigation efforts take into account the fact that major forces driving sea level rise and climate change are carbon emissions and global warming. This implies that solutions to the present problem make allowances to ensure they do not create a bigger problem down the road. Through a combination of green technologies and natural measures, a hybrid mitigation system may prove most effective at accomplishing that. That system could take many forms, but given Miami’s climate and historical geography two strategies stand out: an expansion of solar power and the restoration of natural barriers to sea level rise, including mangroves and swamplands. Solar energy could help power pumps and other green infrastructure throughout the city, thus lessening its carbon footprint. Natural wetlands – and mangroves in particular – are native to the area and can have significant effects on wave strength as well as tidal fluctuations that cause nuisance flooding. Combined, these strategies bode well for a more resilient Miami.
With the future of coastal cities found to be in greater jeopardy with each new study, it is critical that prevention and mitigation strategies take precedent. While some predictions are graver than others, it cannot be denied that sea level rise is an issue the coast will have to contend with – possibly sooner than previously believed. As a result, innovation is crucial and measures must be taken to ensure the welfare of all residents, not just those in the most affluent parts of the cities in question. It is this part of resiliency planning in particular that will help determine the effectiveness of Miami as a role model for other cities and, ultimately, its success in mitigating the possible damage sea level rise could cause.
For more information, please contact Christian Flinn at Christian.Flinn@warwickconsultants.net.