Southeast
The average number of days per year in which U.S. coastal waters rose above the local threshold for minor flooding. NOAA

Thursday’s Editorial: Sunny day flooding is only getting worse

Florida Times-Union calls for action by City of Jacksonville to address flooding

Facts are stubborn things, the saying goes.

And so is the fact that Northeast Florida, with all of its riverfront and coastline, is vulnerable to the impact of sea level rise and storm surge.

The Northeast Florida Planning Organization has been studying this issue since 2013 in what it is called a Public/Private Regional Resiliency group or P2R2 for short.

The object of this group is to address the threats from a business point of view, risk management, taking all the ideology out of it. That’s an approach that seems to work for Northeast Florida.

over the summer a special working group for the city studied the issue as well. It’s called the Adaptation Action Area Working Group.

So let’s look at some of the information compiled from the Working Group this summer.

We can start with the property value at risk. Hold on, these are big numbers:

For a storm surge of 1 to 5 feet, nearly one-third of all the parcels in Northeast Florida would be at risk, a total of 247,000 parcels. The private value: $24.4 billion!

At 1 foot of sea level rise, 3.9 percent of the parcels are at risk, 48,000 of them, for a value of $1.6 billion.

The Working Group focused on a medium-range impact of a 2-foot rise in sea level by 2060. The object is to identify the risks and then look at existing policies and regulations that may need to be changed such as drainage, flood zone rules, land use policies and zoning.

Even flood maps are not accurate in some places because history is not a good predictor of future sea level rise and storm surge. This is especially true for the riverfront west of the Mathews Bridge.

“Consensus is that the Downtown area is not modeled correctly and as such is not being considered in the appropriate light,” according to staff findings.

Sunny day flooding already is a fact of life in San Marco and Downtown near Hogans Creek.

Computer models for Downtown and Riverside are poor.

The group also looked at how other coastal cities have addressed these threats, many of them far ahead of Jacksonville. Charleston and Norfolk are notable examples of cities taking responsible, proactive approaches.

“It’s hard to remain a climate change skeptic when your street floods at high tide,” reported a story in planning.org on Norfolk.

“When the moon is full, there are streets in Norfolk where a kayak is the vehicle of choice at high tide,” said Norfolk’s former planning director.

So Norfolk intends to become in effect an urban resource for the challenges of sea level rise. In contrast, city leaders in Jacksonville are just now poking their heads out of the sand, though Jacksonville has long had a flooding and storm surge problem.

There is no special City Council task force on sea level rise.

The Working Group suggests seeking federal grants for assistance in mitigation because it’s much cheaper than dealing with flood damage. In some cases, it’s cheaper to purchase property in flood zones and return it to natural wetlands.

There are many planning and zoning implications to the new realities. Jacksonville City Council should have a task force to address them.

See Florida Times-Union editorial . . .

See also Flooding Hot Spots: Why Seas Are Rising Faster on the U.S. East Coast (Yale Environment 360) . . .