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  • Hedda Jarhall

The real reason Florida might be treading water soon

With 100 feet above sea level, Florida is the third lowest-lying state in the U.S. This is a reason for concern because Florida has more than 8,400 miles of shoreline, the Florida Climate Center found a large part of the state’s population is vulnerable to impacts from sea level rise.

Florida Climate Center is part of Florida State University’s Office and serves as the primary resource for climate data, information and services within Florida. They achieve their mission by providing climate monitoring, research and expertise to people and institutions.

The negative impacts of a rising sea level are already being experienced in South Florida. Sea Level, an organization that simplifies the risks, causes and solutions to sea level rise, found that Miami-Dade County has groundwater levels that are not high enough relative to the rise of sea level which has created saltwater intrusion into drinking water.

With a population of 6.6 million people, Southeast Florida constitutes one-third of Florida’s population as well as one-third of the state’s economy, according to a 2016 research study titled “Assessing Potential Impacts of Sea Level Rise on Public Health and Vulnerable Populations in Southeast Florida and Providing a Framework to Improve Outcomes.”

The research found that Southeast Florida has a low-lying coast, a subtropical climate, porous geology and distinctive hydrology. This makes it one of the world’s most vulnerable areas to sea level rise in the future. The research concluded a rise in sea level in Southeast Florida will threaten natural systems, densely populated and diverse built environments.

The research found that Palm Beach County is at less risk from sea-level rise than other southeast Florida counties because of its higher elevation. Palm Beach County will instead be challenged and impacted by groundwater levels.

Megan Houston, Director of Palm Beach County Office of Resilience says that when it comes to sea level rising in South Florida, flooding is to be expected. The flooding occurs mainly from storms, hurricanes and extreme rainfall events that impact residents.

The Office of Resilience focuses on making Palm Beach County a thriving sustainable community while dealing with climate change, including sea level rise. Their focus is to prevent, withstand, respond to and recover from disruptions caused by climate change.

“Palm Beach County has a relatively high average elevation above sea level which means that we have more time to learn from our neighbors to build and adapt appropriately to sea level rise,” Houston said.

Her biggest concern regarding climate change in the area is housing issues. She said it will most likely be challenging in the future for people to find affordable and safe houses.

One of many residents already impacted by flooding in South Florida is Meagan Brown, a 22-year-old Fort Myers resident. During 2022, her family’s neighborhood was mostly flooded because of Hurricane Ian.

“Luckily my house happened to be one of the houses that were not completely flooded. The flooding stopped at the threshold of our door and it was only our garage that was completely flooded,” Brown said.

Her family had to rebuild their garage after the hurricane. A boat had also floated into their front yard that they had to take care of. She said the experience with a flooded neighborhood and city does not change her attitude toward staying in Florida in the future.

“I have lived my entire life in South Florida and I do not want to leave,” Brown said. “But it was definitely scary to see everything happening first hand and it opened my eyes to what can happen in the future.”

By Hedda Jarhall

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