As Florida emerges from the devastating and costly effects of Hurricane Irma, our focus must be to rebuild in a way that reduces future risks and increases our resiliency to future storms. There is a long road to recovery ahead, but the good news is, we know where to start.
We have an opportunity to plan thoughtfully and to invest in infrastructure solutions that lessen the impacts of hazards like hurricanes, flooding, and sea level rise with solutions that incorporate nature. The time is now to encourage Congress and the Florida Legislature to allocate critical funding to rebuilding for resilience as they consider recovery appropriations. Florida needs restoration efforts that will accommodate rising seas and the more frequent and intense storms that Florida will continue to endure.
Natural solutions are our first line of defense. It’s critical to invest in protection and restoration of wetlands so they function properly and decrease flooding, property damage and displacement of people during storms. There are quantifiable benefits to risk reduction — coastal wetlands along 12 U.S. states hit by Hurricane Sandy prevented $625 million in potential property damages.
Floridians know we have more coastline than any other state in the continental U.S., and along those shores, natural systems including marshes, mangroves, dunes, and oyster and coral reefs buffer us against storm surge, providing substantial protection. Healthy coral and oyster reefs can moderate the impacts of waves and storms on our coast. Plus, these self-sustaining systems deliver other valuable services. They provide wildlife habitat, support fisheries, tourism and recreation economies, help to filter and clean our waters, and store carbon from greenhouse gases. We need to allocate funding for these green infrastructure solutions while we’re allocating funding for built infrastructure.
In our cities, as we rebuild or develop new public infrastructure, plans should include roads and stormwater systems that incorporate sea level rise potential and flooding into design. Several counties in South Florida have already made this commitment. While we’re planning the recovery from Irma and the future of our urban and coastal areas, we must consider the many benefits of preserving natural systems or creating greenspace. From the Keys to Jacksonville to Pensacola, we must meet the challenge.
We can continue to take important steps throughout the state toward resilience, revising comprehensive plans, strengthening the state building code, and implementing the peril of flood legislation which addresses sea level rise and storm surge threats in coastal development. Several counties and municipalities have programs underway to implement adaptation strategies. They’re prioritizing funding and supporting risk reduction through a series of actions, including directing growth away from coastal high hazard and flood areas, and encouraging risk resilient development.
This is the moment when we must encourage the best investment of our tax dollars to lessen our vulnerabilities and rebuild for resilience. We can plan now to improve our future with resilient infrastructure and implementation of nature-based solutions to benefit our cities, lands, waters, and people.
Temperince Morgan is the executive director for The Nature Conservancy in Florida. The mission of The Nature Conservancy is to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends.