Why Miami Can't Copy New York's Plan For Sea Level Rise

Jun 14, 2013

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made significant waves Tuesday when he announced a comprehensive $19.5 billion plan to gird the city against the threat of sea level rise.

The long-term plans include a series of levees and storm barriers to protect against waters that are expected to rise anywhere from 20 inches to more than six feet in the next century. 

Will this be the new normal in South Beach?
Credit maxstrz / Flickr Creative Commons

The national flap about Bloomberg's proactive stance on coping with impending coastal inundation has led to a sort of "OK, that's what they're doing. What about the rest of you?" sentiment among the media.

National Geographic looked at sea level rise mitigation around the world and highlighted areas that are most vulnerable to the phenomenon.

Any guesses on which American city was called out as an area of special concern? If you guessed Miami, you probably know already that you should be clamoring for a spot aboard Hialeah's Ark

In the piece, "New York's Sea-Level Plan: Will It Play In Miami?," National Geographic writer Tim Folger name-checks Miami -- which "rests on a foundation of highly porous limestone" -- as topping a scientific and planning report that lists "cities with the most assets at risk."

Folger asserts that Bloomberg's approach to sea level rise wouldn't float in Miami, where "seawater would flow unimpeded beneath any levee or storm surge barrier:"

It's already contaminating Florida's underground water supply, and it regularly erupts from Miami's sewers during "king tides," when the sun and moon exert their most powerful tidal pull on Earth. The problem is only going to get worse: By the century's end large parts of Florida may be underwater. 

Depressing doomsday speculation indeed. But that isn't to say that South Florida's leaders are ready to throw in the towel and invest in houseboats en masse.

Take Broward County Mayor Kristin Jacobs, for example. As a founding member of the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, Jacobs has been at the forefront of efforts to initiate sea level adaptation in the region. 

The county has only just begun "incorporating sea level rise and climate change projections into their land development codes" according to a May report from WLRN.

Jacobs insists that local leadership -- county and city officials -- will need to forge the path when it comes to developing solutions to sea level rise. Though the state may have a vested interest in the problem, she believes local municipalities should take the reigns. 

South Florida leaders are cognizant of the fact that engineering solutions that work in cities like New York and New Orleans are useless in Florida. 

In a WLRN story from April, Jacobs said "these issues are not going to be solved by simply raising a sea wall. The water is coming up underneath. It's coming up through cracks. It will continue to do that. We're not Louisiana. We can't go build a wall and hope to hold the sea back."

Conservationalists say that restoring and rehabbing the Everglades will help to buffer some of the effects of sea level rise. As crucial as it is to secure the long-term health of the marshes, Everglades restoration is far from a cure-all to sea level rise. 

So what is the solution for Miami? It's a good question and one that continues to beg for a feasible answer.