Climate change is not only already visible in iconic South Beach, but so is climate change adaptation, in the form of new storm water pumps meant to keep rising sea levels from swamping low-lying streets, city officials said Wednesday.
Extreme high tides in the fall and spring push seawater up through aging infrastructure, flooding some Miami Beach streets with more than a foot of water even on sunny days, snarling vehicle and pedestrian traffic. National and regional climate change risk assessments have used the flooding to illustrate the Miami area’s vulnerability to rising sea levels.
Watching a new storm water pump being readied for installation along the city’s bay front, officials said they hoped the project would make Miami Beach, a barrier island with an average elevation of 4.4 feet above sea level, an example of climate change adaptation instead of only risk.
A system of about 60 new pumps across the city will keep streets dry for the next 25 to 30 years, said Mayor Philip Levine. A higher sea wall also is being built to cope with storm surge flooding.
“The one thing we won’t do as a city is sit by and wait for water to rise around us. We’re taking aggressive, offensive actions,” he said.
At least two pumps will be working by the time the annual king tides emerge later this fall, officials said. Those tides are expected to be almost 3 inches higher than last year, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projections, and they can be exacerbated by heavy rainfall or offshore ocean swells.
Miami Beach expects to spend up to $400 million over five years to upgrade the storm water system to improve drainage and reduce neighborhood flooding. The Florida Department of Transportation also is installing new pump stations in the city.
According to a regional agreement for climate change adaptation, the waters off South Florida could rise up to 2 feet by 2060. Florida’s porous limestone foundation — structured like Swiss cheese — makes the state particularly vulnerable to rising seas because water seeps up through the ground, flooding roads and outdated sewage systems.
Levine pointed to millions of dollars of new investment and development in Miami Beach as evidence that people believe in the city’s long-term viability. Some residents trying to negotiate traffic around the construction, though, were skeptical.
“Are you kidding me? Sea level rise is inevitable,” said Luis Epperson, shaking his head. “You’re going to have to lift the city on floaters or something.”
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