Miami’s Ultimate Vice May Be Its Proximity to Water

Miami is known for its beautiful sun-drenched beaches, including South Beach, with its trendy nightlife and Art Deco architecture. Lesser known is that Florida, and especially Miami, is being threatened by a rise in sea levels if current climate-change and sea-level rise patterns continue.

These findings are part of a recently released draft climate paper, the “Climate Assessment Report,” which was overseen by the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee (NCADAC).

Jayantha Obeysekara, the Director of the Hydrologic & Environmental Systems Modeling Department at the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), tells TakePart that South Florida’s coastline is particularly susceptible to sea-level rise.


“Miami-Dade and Broward counties are more vulnerable due to a variety of factors,” he says. “The topography of the coastal cities is very low and Florida has some of the largest cities with a million or more people living below three feet elevation—and that includes Miami. This causes the coast to be highly vulnerable to storm surges and waves, particularly during tropical storms. The flood control infrastructure has served its design life, about 50 years, and some are already facing capacity reduction due to higher sea levels.”

Obeysekara also explains that the geology of the region is characterized by highly porous limestone which favors saltwater intrusion towards utility water supply wells threatening them with sea water contamination. “Some wells have already seen this effect and the municipalities and counties are forced to move the well fields inland,” he says. “In the Everglades National Park, there is a concern that the organic peat near the mangroves may collapse with sea level rise and saltwater intrusion.”

Asked if there were changes that can be made to the region's flood control system that would make the area less vulnerable, Obeysekara says that SFWMD has done a preliminary screening analysis to identify the most vulnerable structures located in Miami-Dade county.

“There is one solution that we have implemented at two locations where additional flood discharge capacity has been added to existing gravity structure by constructing a new pump station for what we call ‘forward  pumping,’ meaning from land to sea,” he says. “There are other places like Miami Beach which are outside the regional flood control system and they have developed local storm water management plans to construct several new pump stations.”

Obeysekara adds that, “In many places, the high tide and storm surge now comes through the older storm sewer system and flood streets—what we call ‘sunny day flooding.’ Fort Lauderdale is implementing ‘reverse flow preventers,’ valves which do not permit water to flow from the sea to land but allow storm water to discharge to the sea when conditions are right. And in the Keys, new construction now requires the structures to be built higher or allow for storm surges. For example, the first floor is a garage and the dwelling is on the second floor.”

The news is actually even worse for Florida’s neighbor, Louisiana. The Lens, a nonprofit, public-interest newsroom located in New Orleans, reported last month that, “researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have concluded that Louisiana is in line for the highest rate of sea-level rise on the planet.”

In a parallel to the efforts underway in Florida, the NOAA stated that Louisiana’s Master Plan needs to be adjusted to meet this larger, faster-approaching threat.

Do you think the government should be investing more in facilities and systems that can protect areas vulnerable to rising sea levels?

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Lawrence Karol is a writer and editor who lives with his dog, Mike. He is a former Gourmet staffer and enjoys writing about design, food, travel and lots of other stuff. @WriteEditDream | Email Lawrence |