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The South Florida Roundup

South Florida News Outlets Collaborate To Tackle Threat Of Sea-Level Rise

Al Diaz
Miami Herald
Decades after carving out canals to drain South Florida, is its flood control system up to the challenge of higher seas? A South Florida media collaborative is tackling questions like this to better understand how sea-level rise affects the region.

The threat of sea level rise affects all of South Florida – from the ocean to the Everglades. The sea has risen nine inches in the past century. It’s predicted to rise another two feet in less than half that time.


Evidence of the higher seas can be seen around the region – including increased flooding, raising roads, flood pumps and encroaching saltwater.

Read More: Is South Florida Doomed By Sea-Level Rise?

Given this scope, The Miami Herald, The Sun-Sentinel and The Palm Beach Post have teamed up with WLRN to address sea-level rise.

Host Tom Hudson spoke with members of the editorial boards – Nancy Ancrum of The Miami Herald, Rick Christie of The Palm Beach Post and Rosemary O’Hara of The Sun-Sentinel – about the latest from The Invading Sea media collaborative.

WLRN: What is the threat posed by higher seas in South Florida? 

ROSEMARY O'HARA: South Florida understands that sea-level rise is happening. The challenge we face is whether we think it's going to affect us in our lifetime. The issue is it's already affecting us. It's happening, and what's not happening is a plan for our region. What are we going to do about this?

For years, though, we've had this Southeast Florida Climate Compact – this agreement among the four counties about climate change and resiliency and adaptation and mitigation. In other words, it's a response at the local level. Has that gone to a point of action? 

NANCY ANCRUM: It has gotten the attention of elected officials, whose attention really was lacking here. We're also seeing are a lot of cranes in the air, a lot of high-rises still on the horizon. So, there is a disconnect between whatever good the Climate Change Compact can do and elected officials who keep approving such construction. 

The population continues to swell. The fact of the matter is we need to have these policy discussions and policies about how to balance that population demand with our ability to respond to sea-level rise.

RICK CHRISTIE: Absolutely. These are tough conversations to have. Florida's economy is pretty much fueled by its growth and always has been. The politicians' job obviously is to bring in as much tax revenue as possible so that they can provide services, and they're reluctant to stop or allow the buildings that are going up along the coast.

I think at the federal level, it is a climate change policy question. At the local level, at the state level, even, it's perhaps more of a consequence of climate change policy debate. In other words, what is any singular municipality within the four counties of South Florida going to do to affect the trajectory of climate change versus what are those four counties going to do to protect neighborhoods, to protect the revenue-generating assets of the beaches, for instance? 

R.O.: At the local level, there is a bipartisan agreement that this is real; this is happening; and we have to do something. But at Tallahassee, despite the economic powerhouse that is South Florida and the change that we're facing, we are not on the agenda there.

And Washington is responsible for the Intracoastal Waterway and for the seawalls along there, and we need those sea walls raised. Washington is responsible for our flood control system with the Army Corps of Engineers; we need that addressed. Yet, because of the politics of climate change, they're sticking their heads in the sand. It's really why we are trying to frame this conversation in terms of sea-level rise.

The pushback is that people are afraid we're going to hurt the economy. Well, our economy is going to change. But there is a business opportunity in the business of adaptation and in the business of solar energy. And if we think not just about building high-rises on the beach or inland, but start thinking about adaptation as a huge opportunity. Let's be a leader in the world on how ground zero can adapt to a sea-level rise. There is opportunity here.

This post was updated after the May 11, 2018 episode of The Florida Roundup.

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In a journalism career covering news from high global finance to neighborhood infrastructure, Tom Hudson is the Vice President of News and Special Correspondent for WLRN. He hosts and produces the Sunshine Economy and anchors the Florida Roundup in addition to leading the organization's news engagement strategy.
Alexander Gonzalez produces the afternoon newscasts airing during All Things Considered. He enjoys helping tell the South Florida story through audio and digital platforms. Alex is interested in a little of everything from business to culture to politics.