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The South Florida Roundup

What New Sea Level Rise Projections Mean For The Florida Keys

Steve Rothaus
Miami Herald
The new sea level projections are a confirmation of what many in South Florida have seen first hand during king tides.

New sea level rise projections for South Florida show an alarming trend: higher waters are coming faster than previously expected.

According to the Southeast Florida Climate Compact, seas could rise between one foot and two-and-a-half feet by 2060 – two to five inches more than 2015 projections.

Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe, and Palm Beach Counties formed the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact as a way to create common strategic resiliency plans, including how high to construct buildings or elevate roads. The compact updates its sea level rise projections for the region every four years.

WLRN has been asking listeners about how much the threat of rising seas plays a role in their lives. Here's some of those responses:

 “When I'm thinking long term about my future in Florida, that's when it it [sea level rise] kind of bubbles up in my mind," said Becky Halterman Robinson from West Palm Beach. "And so, I'm thinking, ‘I bought a home in South Florida.’ And when I think about in five years ‘are we going to sell this home?’, that's when thoughts of sea level rise kind of intrude, so to speak.”

“When I see those figures, it makes me wonder about whether we should continue to raise our kids here, whether my husband and I invest in our careers here," said Jenny Vargas from Miami. "I wonder if it's good to put more money into this house. Or the real estate value is going to drop at some point because of climate change and sea level rise?"

The South Florida Roundup delved into the issue with a panel of experts. WLRN’s Tom Hudson and environmental reporter Jenny Staletovich spoke with Rhonda Haag, Monroe County's sustainability director.

Here's an excerpt of their conversation: 

JENNY STALETOVICH: What did you make of the new projections for sea rise that came out this week?

RHONDA HAAG: There really wasn't a big surprise. We've been watching the trends and noticed that they were trending higher. We were anticipating that they were going to rise because there's been no information for a slowdown.

TOM HUDSON: Rhonda, maybe you’re not surprised that they were higher, but the level at which they were raised, did that surprise you at all? Another five to 17 inches on the high side? That seems a pretty significant move in  just four years.

HAAG: To me, it wasn’t because I’ve seen what’s happening here in the [Florida] Keys, how much even in the last three or four years our fall tides have increased around the Keys.

HUDSON: What does this mean for just Monroe County and low-lying areas? 

HAAG: This was by far the worst year we’ve ever seen the King Tide flooding in October, November and December in the Keys. It was not only widespread but it was deeper in many places than it’s ever been. It stayed much longer in many of the neighborhoods than it ever has stayed before. This is just a look at what we can expect in the future. And apparently the not too distant future.

STALETOVICH: During a recent climate summit in Key West, some pretty dramatic statements were made, including by your boss, Roman Gastesi, who said, Some really tough decisions lie ahead, and that there may reach a point where you can’t raise roads to get to everybody’s house. Is this something that could trigger another Conch Rebellion?

HAAG: We’re an island community. Our 300 miles of county roads are at or near sea level. Of course they’re going to be affected. Can we raise all of them? We don’t know yet. So what we presented at the summit was just a little preliminary instance of what it could look. It’s gonna be really expensive. We think we can keep up for a couple of decades at the minimum. It all depends on what’s going to happen when we get this county-wide roads elevation plan, in a year from now, the result from that.

Six leading news organizations in Florida have formed a partnership to report on climate change. The founding members include the Miami Herald, the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the Tampa Bay Times, the Palm Beach Post, the Orlando Sentinel and WLRN Public Media. You can learn more here.

WLRN intern Nirmal Mulaikal contributed to digital production.

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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.
Tom Hudson is WLRN's Senior Economics Editor and Special Correspondent.
Jenny Staletovich is WLRN's Environment Editor. She has been a journalist working in Florida for nearly 20 years. Contact Jenny at jstaletovich@wlrnnews.org