No issue is more important to the future of Southeast Florida than sea-level rise. However, a recent op-ed on the threat of rising sea levels to water supplies in South Florida included some factual errors and neglected important context.
As resilience officers for the four counties of Southeast Florida, we wish to correct and expand the record.
First, it is correct that sea-level rise does contribute to saltwater movement in the Biscayne Aquifer, a trend that has been monitored for decades. But the author overstated the threat, confusing coastal vulnerability with county-wide exposure, and falsely attributed text from a planning document as a formal statement from the Broward County Commission.
The correct statement is that 40 percent of coastal wellfield capacity is vulnerable to saltwater intrusion under conditions of two feet of sea-level rise, predicted by 2060. However, the county and municipal water providers have and will continue to account for saltwater intrusion as part of coordinated water supply planning.
Second, inaccurate statements were made regarding Miami-Dade County’s 2018 water quality report. The county detected 21 monitored compounds in the water during the reporting period –not 89– and all were within the allowable levels set by federal, state, and local laws, rules, and regulations. The author did not acknowledge that many of these are naturally occurring elements well below allowable levels, with the county’s drinking water fully meeting all EPA standards.
More broadly, however, the op-ed failed to include crucial context, implying that the region’s challenges are not being met with solutions. This is incorrect. Public and private service providers throughout the region are already addressing our risks and vulnerabilities to a changing climate.
In particular, county governments, municipalities, local utilities, and the South Florida Water Management District have been focusing for decades on understanding and addressing the region’s diverse and interrelated water resource challenges, including historic and future saltwater intrusion, drought, population growth, and environmental needs.
Throughout Southeast Florida, investments continue to be made in sophisticated monitoring and modeling of saltwater intrusion, shifting threatened wells away from coastal areas, improving water conservation, recharging the Biscayne Aquifer with alternative water supplies, storage and reuse of stormwater, and use of the deeper Floridan Aquifer. Desalination plants are not on the region’s list of priorities, as desalination plants have higher operational costs than every other alternative water supply option available in the region
In January 2010, Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe, and Palm Beach counties formed the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact to coordinate climate change projects and policies across county lines.
Since then, the four Compact counties have advanced local and regional responses to—and preparations for—the effects of climate change, including sea-level rise, flooding, impacts to drinking water supplies, and economic and social disruptions. The Compact has expanded our collaboration with a growing number of municipal, regional, state, federal, nonprofit, academic, and private-sector partners.
The Compact has made tremendous progress addressing our shared climate challenges and become a model for regional cooperation throughout the U.S. and around the globe.
Counties, cities, and water utilities in Southeast Florida are taking an integrated approach to address sea-level rise and future water resource scenarios. This approach emphasizes conservation, optimizes efficiency, diversifies water sources, and accounts for both urban and natural systems.
Water resource issues in Southeast Florida are indeed challenging, but with the type of coordinated planning and investments already underway at many levels, our regional challenges can be overcome.
Dr. Jennifer L. Jurado, Chief Resilience Officer, Broward County; Jim Murley, Chief Resilience Officer, Miami-Dade County; Rhonda Haag, Sustainability Director, Monroe County; Megan S. Houston, Director, Office of Resilience, Palm Beach 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.