Miami Beach Begins Prep for 'Ground Zero' Climate Damage

Bloomberg BNA — Sea rise, storm surge and other climate change impacts could put billions of dollars worth of coastal properties and tourism activities in South Florida at risk, local officials said April 22 at a field hearing in Miami Beach organized by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).

Nelson called Florida “ground zero” for sea level rise. The state has already seen between 5 and 8 inches of sea level rise, he said.

Another 3 to 9 inches of sea level rise by 2050 could destroy the majority of the coastal structures protecting Southeast Florida from flooding and saltwater intrusion, according to research from Florida Atlantic University.

“It's real and yet some of our colleagues in the Senate deny it,” Nelson said. But “we can't afford” to wait any longer to start preparing for climate change, he said.

Nelson said he would bring the issue of sea level rise to the attention of the Senate's climate caucus, formed in January. Another member of the caucus, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), plans to meet with elected officials and scientists in Miami on April 25 as part of his “climate road trip”.

Planning for Impacts

Miami is ranked highest in the world among cities with the most assets threatened by sea level rise and coastal flooding, according to research from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Miami Beach real estate is worth more than $23 billion and its tourism industry reached record levels in 2013.

“Florida and the U.S. cannot afford to lose our city,” Philip Levine, mayor of Miami Beach, said at the hearing.

He said sea level rise is “the most pressing challenge for us” because it leads to more frequent flooding of streets. Storm surge is another challenge that results in flooding and damages to property and infrastructure, Levine said.

To help reduce these potentially costly impacts, Levine said he is developing a comprehensive plan for managing floods and adapting to sea level rise.

The plan includes steps to improve the city's drainage system that could cost up to $400 million to implement, Levine said. The Miami Beach commission is expected to vote on a piece of the plan April 23.

Counties Working Together

Broward County Commissioner Kristin Jacobs said many cities in Florida are facing similar issues related to flooding and the loss of freshwater, but they are addressing climate change in different ways.

“The scale of this problem means we will have to work together” because flooding and hurricanes don't respect county boundaries, she said. Broward was one of four counties that agreed in 2010 to take a regional approach to climate resilience.

At the federal level, Jacobs said she would also like to see grants for roads and other infrastructure tied more closely to climate change resilience. Jacobs is advising the federal government on climate preparedness as a member of a White House task force.

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