South Florida Readies For Rising Seas

Dec 13, 2012

2012 will be forever remembered as the year of Hurricane Sandy.

The storm did over $50-billion in damage in the Northeast, playing out a worst case scenario exacerbated by sea-level rise. In low-lying South Florida, the problem of rising seas is more apparent than ever, the issue has recently come front and center in planning for the future.

Fort Lauderdale's State Road A1A has been overrun by the sea
Credit Broward County

Talk about your good timing.

Local author John Englander's book, "High Tide on Main Street, Rising Tide and the Coming Coastal Crisis" was released on October 22nd--exactly a week before Hurricane Sandy made the Boca Raton resident look downright clairvoyant.

"In the page and a half about New York City, I described a storm exactly like Sandy hitting New York City, actually hitting Atlantic City, which is what Sandy did, and showing how the right flank would cause unexpectedly high damage because of a combination of unusual factors."

Englander has been studying the effects of climate change and its impacts on the ocean for decades and has traveled to places like Greenland and Antarctica to bear witness to the rapidly melting ice.

"In the next 50 years we might get 8 inches of sea-level rise. OK, that's not going to inundate us.But my point of the book is, this is going to happen almost regardless of what we do about greenhouse gases today. We can slow it, or speed it up, but we are going to get sea-level rise."

Water rise is expected to speed up by end of the century, increasing as much as 3 to 6 feet by the year 2100.

Englander says what needs to happen now is for governments to begin planning for an uncertain, if not wet future.

"Over the course of the next two or three decades, we will see hopefully different building plans where people will elevate to allow for not only sea-level rise, but storm surge."

Sea-level rise has served to make storm surges during events such as Sandy, even worse.

John Van Arnam is assistant county administrator for Palm Beach, which has lost up to 10 feet of elevation in coastal areas in recent years.

"When you get hit in the face with a frying pan, you know you have to react then.This is a reality that we have to deal with. We deal with a lot of difficult situations in government, we can deal with this. But it is going to require some action on the part of government and businesses, and the people who live here."

The frying pan hit Broward county during, and then after the passage of Sandy, when heavy surf pounded Fort Lauderdale beach at high tides, sending the saltwater all the way to A1A, causing the road to crumble, leaving little beach and a four-lane state road reduced to only two, perhaps permanently along the city's prized coastline north of Sunrise Blvd.

The timing couldn't be worse for Broward mayor Kristen Jacobs.

With a disappearing beach and some of the region's most valuable waterfront real estate under a salt-water siege, she's dealing with the problem right at the height of the winter tourist season.

The beach may be in the city of Fort Lauderdale, the road may belong to the state, but the problem is Broward's.

"Because the feds have not stepped to help, we know we'll have to fly on our own. So, we're working with the state, we're working with the city. The city unfortunately has put up in hands and said 'we don't have any money. County and state you go solve the problem."

Jacobs is quick to point out that only a small section of Fort Lauderdale beach has been engulfed by the sea water. 

But she also knows the problem will one day engulf all of South Florida.

"I think the county's eyes are open, and I think mostly the cities that are on the coastline, all those cities, they're eyes have been open for quite sometime. Now you have the public at large really focusing on the issue."

Sand dunes and steel sheets will be used as temporary fixes to shore up a portion of Fort Lauderdale beach and State Road A-1-A that have taken over by beach.

The $4-point-5 million dollar plan, paid for the county, serves as an expensive band-aid until a permanent fix is found.

The project should be completed by late March.