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March 20, 2014

South Florida considers investing in infrastructure to combat rising sea levels


It’s often difficult to see how climate change is altering the environment in our daily lives, but the residents of South Florida are already noticing how higher water is changing their local landscape.

Miami Beach is a barrier island that is mostly only a few feet above water level. High tides are higher than they were in the past, and the risk of torrential rainstorms has worsened with climate change.

In recent years, increased flooding from high tide and weather events has been a stark wakeup call for people living on South Beach.

“I remember people taking pictures and laughing when we saw people canoeing down West Avenue, but then a lot of people started asking questions. It’s scary in a lot of ways that what could actually happen here,” said one South Beach resident.

South Florida political leaders have adopted a unified sea level rise projection, calculated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. the projections indicate sea levels will rise three to seven inches by 2030 and nine to 24 inches by 2060.

Dr. Jayantha Obeysekera of the South Florida Water Management District says that when the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers designed and built the regional flood control system about 50 years ago, sea level rise wasn’t a major factor.

“But now some of the infrastructure we have on the coastal belt are basically not working as they were designed,” he explained.

Now, officials in South Florida are working on improvements to the system.

“We have done our storm water management master plan that was adopted in 2012, and that had identified approximately $200 million worth of improvements that we needed to do over the next 20 years in order to keep pace with sea level rise and addressing flooding concerns within the city of Miami Beach,” said Eric Carpenter of the Miami Beach Public Works Department.

Warm up questions
  1. What is climate change?
  2. How does it contribute to rising sea levels?
  3. What do you know about the geography of South Florida?
Discussion questions and writing prompts
  1. What options or solutions are available to residents of South Florida facing rising sea levels? Which do you think is the best and why?
  2. How will future rising sea levels change the way of life for people living on the coast?
  3. Whose responsibility should it be to pay for and build new infrastructure that would address the rising sea levels? Explain your answer.
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