In the administration in Washington, D.C., it was announced that the Energy Department may no longer use the term “climate change.” The governor of Florida has kept the state’s Department of Environmental Resources from using the term “climate change.” So how do we plan for the eventual risks of sea level rise?
Sen. Bill Nelson conducted hearings on climate change in Southeast Florida. The concern involves coastal areas. But the ultimate impact may be greater impact inland. South East Florida’s coastal cities were originally founded on the coastal ridge, a narrow corridor of higher ground along the coast. This is where Flagler built his railroad and where the main roads such as Interstate 95 run. Today the flood protection system sends water out the canals into the ocean rather than into the inland area that was the Everglades Ecosystem.
Today we are seeing changes in places such as Greenland and Antarctica, with land based ice melting into the ocean. This could mean rising seas, making it more difficult to drain during floods. When the original pioneers came to Florida they began the process of draining the inland areas. Any canal cut to the ocean drained out the land. This was because the sea level was lower and the land level higher. But as muck soils are dried out they begin to condense and the elevation begins to sink. Canals cut through the coastal ridge meant drainage was no longer held in the center of the state to flow south to the Florida Everglades.
We have reengineered the entire drainage system in South Florida, but that may not be a good thing for us. That is because we are completely dependent upon sea level remaining below canal level. This can be exasperated by storm surge which can suddenly raise sea level by 10 or 20 feet. Water may then be driven back into the center of the state. Because we have blocked the River of Grass flowing to the Everglades, the water could become trapped along the western edge of the coastal ridge. If we protect open space areas like the Ag Reserve in Palm Beach County, the water can sit on these open areas and percolate back into the aquifer. The same is true of protecting areas in the western parts of Palm Beach County. But right now these areas are being developed with no thought as to what could happen.
The first impact if we continue these developments would be to see a possible rise in flood insurance rates. That is because the less open space there is, the more concern there is that areas have a greater level of risk to flooding.
It is not too late to protect these open spaces, particularly the Ag Reserve in Palm Beach County and lands in the Western Part of Broward, Miami Dade, Martin and St. Lucie counties.
Drew Martin, of Lake Worth, serves as conservation chair for Loxahatchee Group, Sierra Club.