Southeast
A duck floats past an algae bloom in a mangrove along the Caloosahatchee River on Thursday, July 12, 2018, in Fort Myers, Fla. Lynne Sladky / AP

FL - Rising seas could divert Florida focus, funding from Everglades water quality to tidal flooding

“With 1,350 miles of coastline, relatively low elevations, and communities built largely on top of former swampland, Florida remains particularly vulnerable to the risk of flooding caused by sea level rise. Over the last several years, we have seen that risk grow exponentially.”

Focus on the Florida Legislature

House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Senate President Wilton Simpson want to address water quality and tidal flooding issues differently than lawmakers have done so since at least 2017.

The two new leaders of the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature are tentatively proposing the state develop with its 412 cities and 67 counties a priority list of projects to mitigate rising waters that flood streets, damage homes and ruin businesses, similar to the Florida Department of Transportation’s (FDOT) five-year work program.

At risk, according to Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) Secretary Noah Valenstein, is $145 billion in taxable property for an estimated 300,000 homes projected to be underwater by 2050 after sea levels rise by 2.5 feet.

“With 1,350 miles of coastline, relatively low elevations, and communities built largely on top of former swampland, Florida remains particularly vulnerable to the risk of flooding caused by sea level rise,” Simpson, R-Trilby, and Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, wrote in a Florida Politics op-ed. “Over the last several years, we have seen that risk grow exponentially.”

The emphasis, apparently, will shift spending away from land acquisition to protect watersheds to focus on removing septic tanks, safeguarding natural springs, building flood-mitigation infrastructure and reassessing the state’s – and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ – commitment to the 10,100-acre, $1.6 billion Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) reservoir project. The reservoir is being built to reduce discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee River and St. Lucie River estuaries that spawn blue-green algae blooms.

Congress approved last summer the Water Resources Development Act of 2020, which provides authority for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin work on the EAA, which was approved by state lawmakers in 2017 as a key improvement in the 40-year, $8 billion Everglades restoration plan approved by Congress in 2000.

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