As Broward County’s Resilience Officer, I have been working on the issue of sea-level rise adaptation for more than 15 years.
Early efforts were driven by concerns about saltwater intrusion — how the rising sea would damage the Biscayne Aquifer and our drinking water supplies. While this work was considered cutting edge for county government, we soon understood we were only scratching the surface in understanding the breadth and complexity of how rising sea levels will affect our region.
Over the next decade, we included sea-level rise in our discussions of regional hydrology, water management, and urban planning.
Broward County hasn’t been alone in grappling with these issues, and in 2009 we partnered with Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, and Monroe counties to form the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact.
It’s a collaboration focused on addressing shared climate-related challenges, which has accelerated our mutual efforts. This alliance has brought resources, expertise, grants and partnerships to our region, and has helped to establish Southeast Florida as a leader on resiliency planning and sea-level rise solutions.
While our planning has advanced, so too has flooding in our communities. It seems each year brings a record-breaking storm or tidal flooding, and water seems to overflow all the time. Systems are at capacity and we simply can’t safely and efficiently move the water the way we used to.
The reality is that we must couple sound adaptation planning with local and regional investments while we work to reduce the rate of sea-level rise through energy consumption practices and sources.
As a region we have developed a common sea-level rise projection — 2 feet of rise by 2060 — to guide adaptation planning.
This reference alone is not enough to drive updated practices, however. We must work to ensure that all local, state and federal spending and planning decisions are informed by this standard. Consistency is necessary. When it comes to flood protection, we are only as strong as our weakest link.
Broward County has embraced this charge and is working with municipal and private sector partners to advance a phased resiliency strategy to achieve the following:
1) Improve drainage. In July 2017, Broward County adopted an updated wet season groundwater elevation map that accounts for the rise in the groundwater table predicted with 2 feet of sea-level rise. This standard is now applied to all new development and major redevelopment.
2) Keep tidal waters at bay. Broward County is partnering with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop a countywide standard for seawall elevations, under conditions of 2 feet of sea-level rise, high tides, and high frequency storm surge. This study will be completed soon and presented for regional policy discussions.
3) Update flood maps. On May 8, Broward County approved a contract that will provide an update of the 100-year flood map that reflects 2 feet of sea-level rise. It will be used to guide building and road elevations and help keep flood insurance rates as low as possible in our community.
4) Invest in resilient infrastructure. On May 24, Broward County Mayor Beam Furr and County Commissioner Nan Rich hosted a Broward Leaders Climate and Resilience Roundtable attended by more than 50 elected officials and business leaders to discuss sea-level rise, flood risk, and regional economics. Officials agreed on the need for an organized infrastructure plan and endorsed coordination of a countywide vulnerability assessment and development of a resilient infrastructure improvement plan.
These efforts represent significant strides for resiliency planning in Broward County. But beyond local government, it is important that we look beyond our own front steps in considering how best to respond to sea-level rise. More frequent, prolonged, and widespread flooding is happening both along our coast and inland. The sea is rising and our infrastructure can’t keep up.
Collectively, we all rely on the same network of interconnected and interdependent systems to maintain flood protection. These systems ensure access to schools, shopping, businesses and medical centers. We are working to update standards for new infrastructure, but they must be matched with investments to upgrade and protect existing infrastructure.
We must pursue transformative change now, with real demonstrations of resilience that will add value to our communities. Investments in resilient infrastructure will provide residents, business owners, and visitors with better flood control, improved services and enhanced quality of life.
Dr. Jennifer Jurado, is the Chief Resilience Officer and Director of the Environmental Planning and Community Resilience Division for Broward County.
“The Invading Sea” is a collaboration of four South Florida media organizations — the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald, Palm Beach Post and WLRN Public Media.