Could finding sea level rise solutions create jobs?

Experts suggest establishing partnerships between governments and venture capitalists to fund plans


MIAMI – Could finding sea level rise solutions create jobs?

In the words of urban planner Jason King, "some places face an existential threat, a threat to its very existence. This is a very clear public safety issue."

From salt water intrusion into our drinking supply, to seasonal tidal flooding in Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale, the evidence of sea level rise is tangible.

King was the project director for Seven50, seven South Florida counties planning 50 years down the road. Variables included population growth and the projected impacts of our rising seas.

"The water rises in 50 years between 2 feet and 4 feet," he said. "The things that we did in the past that seemed sufficient, might not be sufficient."

What's more, due to porous limestone foundation, many of the flood mitigation protocols in place around the world may not translate here. Water can bubble to the surface right from underneath the ground.

"In terms of the water coming up from the sub-straight, we don't have a solution yet," King said.

Due to South Florida's unique geology, King said, we may need to invent our way to adaptation, the solutions may need to come from us.

King said it would benefit city, county and regional planners to factor in the realty of climate change and sea level rise when infrastructure repairs are made. He highlighted the project to restore A1A after its dramatic collapse into the Atlantic after Hurricane Sandy as an example. Crews there elevated the road by 3 feet and added barrier walls flanking the new sand as a buffer against future storm surges.

"At lot of people in government who get this do see climate change as a job growth opportunity," explained Caroline Lewis.

She founded The CLEO Institute, a non-profit focused on climate change.

CLEO works to help people make sense of the science, educate policy makers and garner support for the elected leaders who understand the necessity of prioritizing budgets to find the money needed to execute many of the plans in the works for sea -level rise adaptation.

"The cost of not doing something is greater than the cost of doing it right," she said. "If we were to truly incentivize innovation around solution-orientedness, we really could unleash this whole new paradigm of inventions and create jobs and hubs and activities, because the whole world is heading this way. It's not just America or Miami. It is all of us. If we are not leading the pack in inventing our way to mitigate and adapt around this change here we are losing opportunities."

Lewis said she is working to establish a private-public partnership to find solutions to South Florida's anticipated challenges with climate change could create jobs.

"Economic growth of the future is going to be riding that wave," she said. "We should be on that wave right now, funding the ingenuity around solution-orientedness, to mitigate and adapt to climate change."

King agreed there is something exciting about the opportunity to lead the world on this global issue.

"If we are in it alone, and if we do come up with a solution, we might -- especially since we are on the front lines, we are dealing with this first -- we might have something important that southeast Florida can contribute to the conversation the world is having," King said.

Florida International University's geographic information systems coordinator Peter Harlem has been studying the maps that show what areas of South Florida will be in trouble as the seas gradually rise. He said you don't need to be a scientist to know things have changed. Just look to nature. Fish stocks are moving, storm surges are more significant, barnacles are higher up on sea walls and even new mangroves are latching on to rocks above the waterline in some places.

"We may not like it, we may want to hear it, we may not want to believe it, but the natural systems are all responding and the only system that isn't responding is sort of the human one," he said.

The Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department (WASD) is implementing a systematic and responsible approach to improving the wastewater collection and treatment system during the next 15 years. The improvements made today and throughout the project will impact our current customers and future residents for decades to come. The upgrades will be driven by adherence to new regulatory requirements, addressing aging infrastructure, implementing the use of new technology, as well as factoring in the impact of climate change and sea level rise.

The consent decree is only a part of the department's overall Capital Improvement Plan that will provide long-lasting enhanced benefits for the community, as we continue to deliver high-quality drinking water and wastewater disposal service to our more than 2.3 million customers on a daily basis.