Rising Sea Levels Concern Policymakers

The cost of Hurricane Sandy has been estimated at 50 billion dollars making it the second costliest in U.S. history. It caused water levels to rise from Florida to Maine. As a result of the devastation experienced by New York City, Mayor Bloomberg has proposed a $20 billion plan to protect the city from increased storm surge and flooding that will result from climate change.

Last month a conference was held in Ft. Lauderdale on climate change attended by not only scientists but officials from most of South Florida’s cities and counties and officials from northern coastal Florida. They heard that of Florida’s 1,197 miles of coastline most of it is only three feet above the rising ocean levels. The geology of the state makes it vulnerable to seawater encroachment. Billions of dollars’ worth of buildings, roads and infrastructure lie on highly porous limestone that leaches water. It is predicted that South Florida will be under six feet or more of water before the end of the century due to rising sea levels.

Three years ago four South Florida counties, Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe and Palm Beach, formed a coalition to plan for the impact of climate change. The counties, with a combined population of 5.6 million, are trying to come up with some solutions. Key West in Monroe County, adopted ordinances requiring all new building to be raised at least a foot and a half higher than the old standard, use green building codes, and have large, freshwater cisterns. By collecting rainwater, cisterns help reduce flooding by keeping it out of the streets.

In November, Climate Central, an independent organization of scientists, published a report called “Surging Seas” about the threat from sea level rise. Ben Strauss, the Director of their Sea Level Rise Program said, “People tend to underestimate the gravity here, I think, because it sounds far off.” Their research shows that there is about $156 billion worth of property and 300,000 homes, on 2,120 square miles of land that is less than 3 feet above the high tide line in Florida.

Some suggestions being discussed include establishing a moratorium on development along coastal areas and compelling residents whose homes are threatened to move inland

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