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When it comes to climate change, one thing is certain: our oceans are rising. And South Florida is expected to be among the first regions on Earth to experience the impact. In fact, some initial preparations are already underway. WLRN-Miami Herald News presents a series of stories about the effects of sea-level rise. The project is called “Elevation Zero: Rising Seas In South Florida." Click through the pages below to see our entire archive of Elevation Zero stories.

Tallahassee Lawmakers Hear How Rising Seas Threaten South Florida

Gina Jordan/WLRN

The rising sea level threat facing South Florida communities is on the radar of the region's lawmakers.

They recently met at the Capitol to hear from a panel of experts.

Monroe County administrator Roman Gastesi says the waters off Key West have gone up 9 inches in the last hundred years, and the rise is accelerating.

“What we’re looking at now is 9 to 24 inches in the next 50 years,” Gastesi says. “Three to seven (inches) in 20 years.”

The meeting didn’t address the reasons why the sea is rising, just that it’s happening.

Assistant Palm Beach County Administrator Jon Van Arnam says just one foot of water will impact property values by billions of dollars in Southeast Florida.  

“We’re looking at a 50 year horizon of 9 to 24 inches of sea level rise and it’s exponentially increasing,” Van Arnam says.

Democratic West Palm Beach Representative Mark Pafford says tourism will be impacted soon if communities don’t move quickly.

“The beaches are gone. You’ve got palm trees that are actually dying of salt water,” Pafford says. “These are negative changes that we’re now living through and it requires immediate action.”

Water managers are working to push more water into the Everglades and coastal canal systems. They’re also searching for alternative water sources and implementing conservation efforts to protect the drinking water supply.

Democratic Lake Worth Senator Jeff Clemens says lawmakers need to start appropriating dollars now.

“We’ve got to find a way as three delegations to convince the rest of the state that this is a potential economic disaster for the state of Florida if we don’t do something about this,” Clemens says. “There are infrastructure needs and plans that need to start now.”

The experts say communities can buy themselves at least four decades of protection just by raising sea walls.

Threats to Southeast Florida from extreme weather and rising seas:

  • Threats to public and private infrastructure – Flooding; Beach erosion; Wind damage
  • Impacts on water supplies -- Water shortages; Salt water intrusion
  • Compromised natural systems – Everglades; Coral reefs