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Statewide Flooding and Sea Level Rise Resilience Florida

Policy Details

Policy Type: Policy
Jurisdiction: State — Florida
Status: Passed
Tags: Sea Level Rise and Flooding

Policy Summary

On April 8, 2021, the Florida Legislature passed “An Act Relating to Statewide Flooding and Sea Level Rise Resilience” (SB 1954/HB 7019). The legislation requires the Department of Environmental Protection to draft a comprehensive flooding and resilience plan. And establish a research center based at the University of South Florida, located in the Tampa Bay area, focused on counteracting flooding and the risks from sea level rise. “It’s a bold first step for Florida in terms of sea level rise and flooding, for sure, but at the same time what it’s missing is anything to actually reduce the cause of the problem — which is greenhouse gas emissions,” said Jonathan Webber, deputy director of Florida Conservation Voters. — ABC News

This and related bills contain a number of positive changes to Florida Statutes that will help Florida better understand the risks and costs to Florida of sea-level rise (SLR). While this and related bills that have passed this session, as described below, indicate a sea change for Florida’s Legislature on SLR, this effort would be stronger with a focus on the causes of SLR and increased flooding.

The Act establishes the “Resilient Florida Grant Program” in the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The program can provide: grants to local governments and regional resilience entities to fund resilience planning, vulnerability assessments for flooding and SLR, the development of adaptation projects, plans, and policies to address flooding and SLR threats, and projects to adapt critical assets to the effects of flooding and SLR, and be used for necessary data development and collection. Importantly, the Act requires that all such data be in specific formats and be submitted to DEP for inclusion in a statewide database.

This overall collection of local data will then assist the State accomplish the Resilience Act requirement that DEP develop a statewide flood vulnerability and SLR data set that will allow creation of a statewide flood vulnerability and SLR assessment. The first assessment is due for completion on July 1, 2023 whereas the statewide dataset on which it is based is due July 1, 2022.

Seeing Florida’s Legislature getting serious to address the impacts of flooding and SLR is good news. But is this sufficient?

First, and central to the entire conversation, neither SB 1954 nor any related bills directly address climate change (CC) as the driver for SLR and the increased intensity rain events causing increased inland and coastal flooding. This represents a failure to address the root causes of SLR and increased flooding. This is akin to a homeowner with a roof leak collecting data on how much water is leaking in, predicting where water might leak next, and estimating how many buckets and of what size are needed in the future. But doing all this without directly addressing the leaking roof. While we have already “baked in” some sea-level rise into our future, we still must reduce greenhouse gases to minimize the increasing rate of SLR and the total amount of SLR we cause by emitting greenhouse gases. Fortifying infrastructure to address SLR and precipitation-driven increases in flooding buys us time, but we still need longer-term strategies and options. For example, when do we consider the merits of hardening infrastructure now versus investing those funds in planning for alternative solutions at the community level? Questions such as this admit of no easy answers, but sooner or later we will have to answer such difficult questions. The sooner we begin to consider them, the more options we will have and at costs we are more likely to be able to bear.

In the past, Florida was a leader on land use planning and climate change mitigation through statewide policies focused on energy, conservation, and clean, renewable power. But most of those state laws have been repealed. Now, the Legislature has acted on some of the key impacts of climate change—increased flooding, higher storm surge, and SLR—but not the root causes of these impacts, all while advancing changes that make it more difficult for state or local government to avoid the private creation of additional vulnerability. The impacts of increasing vulnerability will, in large part, be borne by citizens and taxpayers at the local, state, and national levels. From Florida Climate Institute.

Environmental groups say as Gov. Ron DeSantis aims to strengthen infrastructure against sea level rise, he has failed to show much action on what is causing climate change and address the state’s reliance on fossil fuels.

State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, was among 30 representatives to sign onto an Earth Day letter calling on the governor to declare a climate state of emergency in Florida.

“There is an emphasis on resilience, which is important, but nothing on actual mitigation or helping to combat our carbon production and the human actions that are causing sea level rise,” said Eskamani, who sponsored legislation this spring that would have put the state on a path toward 100 percent clean energy by midcentury. The measure never gained a committee hearing.

“The reality is that we’re going to be spending money now to deal with the rising cost of sea level rise, but it’s going to be even more expensive if we don’t do anything to deal with the cause of this problem,” Eskamani said. From WUSF NEWS.

Policy summary courtesy of: ABC News, WUSF NEWS, Florida Climate Institute

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