Climate change, South Florida sea level rise preparation could cost SFWMD $1 billion
WEST PALM BEACH — A 10-year program to prepare for sea level rise could cost the South Florida Water Management District more than $1 billion.
A three-step program of assessing the problem, designing solutions and building those projects could begin next year, Akintunde Owosina, head of the Hydrology and Hydraulics Bureau, told district board members Thursday.
Part of the assessment process has been funded, Owosina told the USA TODAY Network-Florida. The cost of designing and building the projects are estimates.
By far the most expensive part of the program is construction, which Owosina said will cost from $30 million to $70 million a year, "depending on how aggressively we move forward."
Flooding in Indiantown May 27, 2018. (Photo: PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY MARTIN COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE)
The district will post a job opening Friday for a chief of resiliency, said Executive Director Drew Bartlett. The chief will be responsible for making sure sea level rise is considered in all the district's activities, including permitting and project construction.
The new position echoes an executive order Gov. Ron DeSantis issued Jan. 10, two days into his term, to create an Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection to help prepare Florida’s coastal communities and habitats for impacts from sea level rise by providing funding, technical assistance and coordination among state, regional and local entities.
USA Today Network-Florida has requested, but not yet received, information about the applicants to lead the statewide office.
The Army Corps of Engineers hopes to get funding for a $16 million to $20 million study to see what improvements need to be made to the Central and Southern Florida Project.
The Corps' "plumbing system" down the center of the state was designed in the 1950s and needs to be evaluated in light of climate change and population growth, Lt. Col. Jennifer Reynolds, the deputy commander for Florida, told the district board.
If the Corps' study answers questions the district planned to evaluate, Bartlett said, "we might not have to bring as much to the table."
Laura Geselbracht, 59, of Fort Lauderdale, is a marine scientist with The Nature Conservancy. "We have to act," on climate change, she says. Leah Voss, firstname.lastname@example.org
Florida faces numerous threats from climate change, including increased coastal flooding, hurricane intensity and mosquito-borne diseases.
The state's numerous large cities in low coastal areas will be particularly susceptible to sea level rise; and making matters worse, the rate of sea level rise in Florida will be 20 percent higher than the global average.
A study in Science magazine, published last year, said Florida likely will suffer the biggest economic impact of any state ($100.9 billion) as a result of climate change.
In a worst-case scenario, the Fourth National Climate Assessment released in November by the Trump administration said climate change could cause a 10 percent reduction in the country's gross domestic product by the end of the century.
Climate change also is expected to cause more toxic algae blooms because both blue-green algae, which periodically turns the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers guacamole-green, and red tide, which persistently plagues the Gulf Coast and periodically reaches the Treasure Coast, thrive in warm water.
Stetson University professor Jason Evans, 42, works with the city of Satellite Beach monitoring stormwater sewers. Leah Voss, email@example.com
The district is facing three challenges, Mark Perry, executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society in Stuart, told the board:
- Flood control. "It would help if we'd learn to quit building in wetlands."
- Water supply. "Over-drawing from our aquifers means more saltwater intrusion."
- Rainfall. "It looks like it's going to just get more intense," Perry said soon after thunder boomed and rain poured outside the board's auditorium.
"You've got lots of challenges ahead of you," Perry said. "I'm glad you're addressing them."