Solutions For Rising Seas?

Apr 1, 2016

Different groups have different predictions for how much the sea levels will rise in the coming century.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts seas will rise by more than three feet by the end of this century, the United States Army Corps of Engineers says five feet and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts up to six and a half feet.  So what do we do about it? The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce was hosting a discussion Friday about sea level rise. I spoke with Irela Bague, the Sustainability, Environment & Energy Committee chair for the chamber, about what they planned to talk about.

Well, what's unique about today's discussion is we're going to be covering solutions. So rather than what we've been hearing for the past few years that sea levels are rising, and the doom and gloom, and people should just move from Miami-Dade County and just cut and run, which is really a bad message. We're invested so much into building a world-class city that it is ridiculous to not start working on solutions and implementing technologies and methods to reinforce our infrastructure capital improvements. We're seeing some of that already in Miami Beach and in protecting our drinking water supply from salt water intrusion, which is probably the biggest threat from sea-level rise. 

List a couple things that we can do, because stopping Mother Nature is going to be tough.

People talk about the issue as if it's kind of far off. We have to take that into consideration, but we really should start preparing ourselves for storms and extreme weather events. We haven't had a hurricane here, a serious hurricane here, in decades. So that's what I think we should be preparing for -- taking sea-level rise into account and looking at how we're building today. Should we be building differently? Should we be changing our codes? Should we be implementing expediting Everglades restoration, for example? Rehydrating Biscayne Bay is a perfect example of protecting our water supply from saltwater intrusion, which is a threat that's one of the biggest threats from sea-level rise.

The other challenge of course is the fact that even though you have a lot of leaders in South Florida who understand the threat and are working to do something about it you still have a lot of reluctance from leaders in Tallahassee and, of course, leaders in Washington, D. C. Can you move forward if you don't have help from the state and the federal government?

Well, we have moved forward. We have the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact, which we've been working on in the four counties. So we've been working regionally, the four counties, Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe, on planning and coming up with solutions and moving those recommendations forward through our respective counties and municipalities within the counties. One way or another, Florida will protect itself whether we get state help and federal help, and we're starting to see actually the federal government looking at this from an emergency-management perspective. In today's conference, we will have the Army Corps of Engineers here who were actually working in the post-Sandy recovery. So they have firsthand knowledge on how to become more resilient and prepare rather than be reactive to storms. 

Some people talk about climate change and sea-level rise and they say, oh that's way in the future. But people who've been here a long time, they've seen the changes and they've been living through the changes. What do you say to people who are not as concerned about this issue about what have you seen in experience in your lifetime?

Things have changed. I think, for example, of people who live in Miami Beach, and that's a perfect example. We're starting to see more of a flood event than before every time we have a high tide with a full moon. We're starting to see sunny day flooding. Obviously we've seen that in Broward County and  anywhere that you know the streets are completely flooded from the ocean still. So yeah, we're starting to see the potential threat of salt water intrusion into our water supply, so we have to definitely protect that because about seven million people live off that. So you know we're fortunate that we have a natural system that we can we rely on for our water supply, but at the same time we have to protect it.