How Some Florida Communities Are Adjusting To Climate Change

Dec 30, 2019
Originally published on December 30, 2019 7:36 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Rising sea levels brought on by climate change are forcing coastal communities everywhere to plan for more and more floods - and floods not just from hurricanes and other severe weather but also on days when the tides are just higher than usual. We're going to look now at how some communities in Florida are adjusting to all of this. NPR's Greg Allen joins us now from Miami.

Hey, Greg.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Hello, Ailsa.

CHANG: All right, so Florida has this huge coastline, right? So as sea levels rise, a lot of communities are at risk because a huge portion of the population lives on the coast. So how should they be planning for all this flooding?

ALLEN: Well, in Florida, Miami Beach has really been at the forefront of this. For about a decade now, they've been dealing with this thing that sometimes people call sunny day flooding. It's when the sun's shining. There's no rain, but the streets get flooded because of seasonal high tides. Sometimes, they're called king tide, happens mostly in the fall. So several years ago, the city committed to begin spending several hundred million dollars on infrastructure - you know, pumps, seawalls, raising the roads. And you're seeing other local governments throughout Florida follow suit. It's a problem that they're facing right now in the Florida Keys, you know, the island chain just off the coast here in Florida. On Key Largo this summer, because of a series of king tides, one community found its streets were flooded for at least three months.

CHANG: Wow.

ALLEN: I went down there and visited and talked to folks about it. Here's a homeowner I spoke to, Paul Butler.

PAUL BUTLER: It's kind of tough to go out and walk your dog unless you have, you know, hip boots on. I mean, there is people that are going to work that won't drive their vehicles through here. And they park up to the grocery store up on U.S. 1, and they'll walk up.

CHANG: I mean, what's the local government planning to do in Key Largo? Can they just raise the road?

ALLEN: Well, that's the plan that they've been under - had under discussion for a few years. But recently, they were somewhat shocked in Monroe County - that's the county for the Keys. They were shocked when they found - they did a study, and they found out how much it would cost to raise the roads, to improve the sewers, install the pumps, all the things you need to do in that situation. In just one three-mile stretch of road in another neighborhood on Sugarloaf Key, they found elevating that would cost as much as $128 million...

CHANG: Dang.

ALLEN: ...Which - and that's, like - 30 people live on the road. That led a county administrator to announce publicly recently that the only alternative in these kind of cases may be to plan to retreat from certain areas.

CHANG: Retreat - well, how do you retreat? I mean, would the government just buy out homes in flooded areas?

ALLEN: It's already happening sometimes, somewhere down there, in some places. The Keys received about $20 million from the state to buy out homes in flooded areas, and they're hoping to get more. There's also federal money available from FEMA to help rebuild to be more resilient after hurricanes. But in the Keys and elsewhere in Florida, local governments are being forced to step up and figure out how they're going to pay for all this because it's - they're the ones that have to deal with sea level rise and climate change. They've got no other choice.

CHANG: Yeah. Well, on the federal level, we know that the Trump administration is not exactly leading on climate change. So what about on the state level? How much of a priority is this for Florida's governor?

ALLEN: Well, you know, here in Florida, for eight years, we had a governor who's now senator - Rick Scott - who banned state employees from even using the term climate change. The current governor, Ron DeSantis, who's also Republican - and he's close to President Trump - he's departed from that script. He's appointed a resiliency officer. He talks about climate change. Other Republicans here in the legislature and elsewhere are talking about it seriously, even Rick Scott who now says - he's changed his tune, saying climate change is, quote, "real and requires real solutions."

CHANG: That's NPR's Greg Allen in Miami.

Thanks, Greg.

ALLEN: You're welcome.

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