Wednesday, May 20, 2015

How High Is The Water, Momma?*

I don't want to open that whole global warming/climate change can of worms. But when I see stories like this one I want to shake people by the collar and say "Get your head out of your ass and address the problem. Assign blame later."

America's oldest city is slowly drowning.
St. Augustine's centuries-old Spanish fortress and other national landmarks sit feet from the encroaching Atlantic, whose waters already flood the city's narrow, brick-paved streets about 10 times a year — a problem worsening as sea levels rise. The city has long relied on tourism, but visitors to the fortress and Ponce de Leon's mythical Fountain of Youth might someday have to wear waders at high tide.

St. Augustine is one of many chronically flooded communities along Florida's 1,200-mile coastline, and officials in these diverse places share a common concern: They're afraid their buildings and economies will be further inundated by rising seas in just a couple of decades. The effects are a daily reality in much of Florida. Drinking water wells are fouled by seawater. Higher tides and storm surges make for more frequent road flooding from Jacksonville to Key West, and they're overburdening aging flood-control systems.
This is not some theoretical argument over global warming. Nor can there be much disputing one basic fact: the sea level is rising.
Despite warnings from water experts and climate scientists about risks to cities and drinking water, skepticism over sea level projections and climate change science has hampered planning efforts at all levels of government, the records showed. Florida's environmental agencies under (Republican governor Rick) Scott have been downsized and retooled, making them less effective at coordinating sea level rise planning in the state...

"If I were governor, I'd be out there talking about it (sea level rise) every day," said Eric Buermann, the former general counsel to the Republican Party of Florida who also served as a water district governing board member. "I think he's really got to grab ahold of this, set a vision, a long-term vision, and rally the people behind it. Unless you're going to build a sea wall around South Florida, what's the plan?"

The issue presents a public works challenge that could cost billions here and nationwide. In the third-most populous U.S. state, where most residents live near a coast, municipalities say they need statewide coordination and aid to prepare for the costly road ahead.

Communities like St. Augustine can do only so much alone. If one city builds a seawall, it might divert water to a neighbor. Cities also lack the technology, money and manpower to keep back the seas by themselves.

"We will continue to make investments and find solutions to protect our environment and preserve Florida's natural beauty for our future generations," the governor said in a statement.
Words, not deeds. Get off your ass and do something.
St. Augustine's civil engineer says that the low-lying village will probably need a New Orleans-style pumping system to keep water out — but that but no one knows exactly what to do and the state's been unhelpful.

"Only when the frequency of flooding increases will people get nervous about it, and by then it will be too late," engineer Reuben Franklin said. "There's no guidance from the state or federal level. ... Everything I've found to help I've gotten by searching the Internet."

Across coastal Florida, sea levels are rising faster than previously measured, according to federal estimates. In addition to more flooding at high tide, increasing sea levels also mean higher surges during tropical storms and hurricanes, and more inundation of drinking wells throughout Florida.

Water quality is a big concern for many communities. It's especially bad in South Florida — just north of Miami, Hallandale Beach has abandoned six of eight drinking water wells because of saltwater intrusion. Wells in northeast and central Florida are deemed at risk too.

While South Florida water officials have led the charge in addressing sea level rise concerns in their area, their attempt to organize a statewide plan was met with indifference, documents show. The Scott administration has organized just a few conference calls to coordinate local efforts, records show. Those came only after Florida's water district managers asked DEP for help.

The list of other problems across the state is growing. Miami Beach is spending $400 million on new stormwater pumps to keep seawater from overwhelming an outdated sewer system.

In St. Augustine, homes built on sand dunes teeter over open space as erosion eats at the foundations. Beachside hotel owners worry about their livelihoods.

Tampa and Miami are particularly vulnerable to rising seas — many roads and bridges weren't designed to handle higher tides, according to the National Climate Change Assessment. Officials say Daytona Beach roads, too, flood more often than in the 1990s.

"For us, it's a reality, it's not a political issue," said Courtney Barker, city manager of Satellite Beach. The town near Cape Canaveral used to flood during tropical weather, but now just a heavy rainstorm can make roads impassable for commuters.
That's the worst part of this whole situation. People are getting bogged down in whether or not climate change is occurring, and if it is, whether or not it is responsible for the rising sea level.

But regardless of cause, the water keeps rising.

A whole bunch of Neros are fiddling while Rome burns drowns...

Homes built on strands of white sand in Vilano Beach now teeter precariously as high tidewaters cover their front steps. St. Augustine is one of many chronically flooded communities along Florida’s coast, and officials in these diverse places share a common concern: They’re afraid their buildings and economies will be further inundated by rising seas in just a couple of decades. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

* Bonus points if you got the title reference.


Well Seasoned Fool said...


Old NFO said...

This has been an ongoing problem for 20+ years... It's probably been going on since it was founded... sigh...

DoninSacto said...

Could one reason be that so much water has been pumped out of the aquifer that the ground is lowering?

CenTexTim said...

WSF - very good!

NFO - yeah, but it seems to be getting worse - and no one is doing anything about it.

Don - good point. Maybe I should have said the 'relative' sea level is rising relative. But the bottom line remains: it is an obvious problem that needs to be addressed, regardless of what the cause is.

IMO marshaling resources to deal with a widespread and ongoing problem is one of the functions that government should fulfill. In this case, it/they are failing miserably.