Op-Ed: Floridians Need Help Coping with More Intense Hurricanes and Rising Sea Levels - South Dade News Leader: Opinion

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Op-Ed: Floridians Need Help Coping with More Intense Hurricanes and Rising Sea Levels

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Posted: Thursday, November 29, 2018 6:34 pm

The devastation wrought by Hurricane Michael is a fresh reminder of how vulnerable Florida communities are to intense storms.

Rising sea levels are also contributing to worsening regular high-tide flooding and increasing the reach of storm surge. These growing risks are a clarion call for investing more resources in preparing for disasters before they strike, and for stronger, smarter rebuilding efforts informed by the best available science.

Even in the absence of storms, rising sea levels will cause chronic high-tide flooding to become more routine and severe. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, within the next 30 years, as many as 64,000 Florida homes will be at risk of chronic high-tide flooding, defined as flooding an average of 26 times per year or more. By the end of the century, more than one million Florida homes could be at risk.

Scientific projections based on scenarios developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show Florida could experience as much as 1.8 feet of sea level rise by 2045 and 6.4 feet by 2100. This will pose significant near-term challenges to the state’s gravity-fed stormwater drainage

system which relies on elevation differences between the land and the ocean. A study from Florida Atlantic University shows that a mere 6-inch increase in sea levels could render more than 40 percent of South Florida’s coastal flood control capacity ineffective, causing storm water to reverse through drains and back up into streets or flood homes with increasing frequency and intensity.

It’s time for bold action to limit harms to people and property.

One big lesson from hurricane Michael is that stronger building codes—implemented in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, but not the Florida Panhandle, in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew—could have limited damage significantly. In fact, the few homes that escaped relatively unscathed in Mexico Beach were built to stronger standards. Homes at risk from high-tide flooding would also be better protected by stronger flood standards that take into account sea level rise projections. Robust state and local protective building codes and zoning ordinances are commonsense

measures proven to work and should be implemented state-wide.

We also need smarter federal policies. Congress has passed successive multi-billion-dollar disaster aid packages to help hurricane-affected communities in the East and Gulf coasts, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. While this aid is vital, as a nation we must do better than simply try to get people back to the way things were; it’s critical we build back stronger by explicitly including flood-ready standards for all federally-funded projects. Expanded funding for voluntary home buyout programs can also help people get out of harm’s way without suffering a crippling financial blow.

Investing more in building resilience before disasters strike is important too. Recent passage of the bipartisan Disaster Recovery and Reform Act that expands dedicated funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s pre-disaster hazard mitigation program is a promising start. Florida must ensure low- and fixed-income communities, especially, are able to avail these resources. Such communities can be disproportionately affected by flooding and they simply don’t have the ability to foot the bill for flood-proofing measures without assistance.

The good news is that federal funding towards flood risk reduction measures are cost-effective for taxpayers. The National Institute of Building Sciences found that Florida could save $8 to $9 for every $1 invested in elevating homes in flood zones two feet above the 100-year flood level.

Congress should also ensure ongoing federal programs like the Community Development Block Grant administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development have robust funding to help build affordable flood-ready housing and infrastructure, especially important for people of modest means.

With climate and extreme weather risks growing, local, state and federal policymakers must act now to better protect all Florida

communities, especially those most exposed and with the fewest resources. Floridians need and deserve no less.

Rachel Cleetus, Ph.D.

Lead Economist and Policy Director, Climate and Energy Program

Union of Concerned Scientists


Two Brattle Square, Cambridge, MA 02138

+1 617-301-8031

Steven Kirk

President, Rural Neighborhoods


PO Box 343529

Florida City, FL 33034


Meaghan Shannon-Vlkovic

VP and Market Leader, Enterprise Community Partners


50 Hurt Plaza, Suite 649

Atlanta, GA 30303


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