Sea-level rise and Florida: Present - 2025
What We’ll See
Not much. The difference between a 1½-inch rise in sea level and a 3½-inch rise is less than the daily tidal variation. However, events like king tides, storm surges and big tropical storms are likely to get increasing media attention after each occurrence.
Rising Seas, Rising Costs
Sea-level rise may be minimal during this period, but costs attributable to sea-level rise will increase. The American Institute of Architects Florida Chapter has adopted a policy that its members “should plan for three feet of sea-level rise in dealing with clients, municipal building codes and related professionals, such as engineers.” The group recommends that “building designs, codes and infrastructure” accommodate a three-foot rise for projects in all low-lying areas, even those farther inland and up tidal rivers. Miami Beach already is spending $500 million on new pumps, systems and higher streets to combat tidal flooding. In Broward, the county’s 100-year flood elevation map, which specifies how high a residential or commercial property’s “finished floor” must be, will require accommodating two feet of rise, says Broward County Chief Resilience Officer Jennifer Jurado. Buildings will have to be elevated by pillars or have other protections. Some projects that would have been financially viable may not be under new regulations.
In this period, sea-level rise will begin to figure into everything from niche businesses to research to marketing. Developers, for example, may use their projects’ rising-seas adaptations as selling points. Meanwhile, a law firm has announced it will specialize in climate change and sea rise-related issues [“New Legal Waters,” page 122]. And UF’s College of Design, Construction and Planning this year debuted its Florida Institute for Built Environment Resilience, focused on addressing hazards and issues presented by climate change and disasters. The institute is hiring five faculty this year to work with other professors in related fields. College dean Chimay Anumba says the institute, whose acronym is FIBER, will be of “tremendous value” as the state accommodates a growing population, preservation of natural habitats, sea-level rise mitigation and weather catastrophes.
Look for more cases like these: When the city of Miami Beach raised the roads around Miami Beach restaurateur Antonio Gallo’s Sardinia Enoteca restaurant, it put the restaurant’s outdoor main floor below street level. In October, heavy rains fell, not all the city’s pumps turned on and the restaurant sustained $15,000 in flood damage. The insurance policy didn’t cover such damages for basements, which the federal flood insurance program’s representative said Gallo’s floor now was. Gallo’s now fighting to get paid.
Up, Up, Up
St. Petersburg, like some other municipalities and counties around Florida, in 2015 raised its minimum elevation requirement for the lowest finished floor of new construction to two feet above the National Flood Insurance Program minimum — the level to survive a 1-in-100-year flood. The higher required elevation saves property owners on flood insurance premiums, anticipates sea-level rise and makes property more resilient in flood events. These homes, constructed two years apart on the same street in the Westminster Shores retirement community, show how changing standards meant the home at bottom had to be elevated to meet the newer standard.
The Bottom Line:
“Just because conditions are going to be very difficult for certain areas in 2100, do you quit investing? I don’t think that’s the case at all.”
— Broward County Chief Resilience Officer Jennifer Jurado