As hurricane season starts, Miami-Dade’s sea-level strategy underway

Miami-Dade's sea-level strategy is underway, an ambitious plan to stay ahead of rising levels.

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – All that water. It’s the very thing that makes living in South Florida so attractive, but it also poses one of the biggest threats to communities.

Earlier this year, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava announced the county’s new sea-level rise strategy, an ambitious plan to stay ahead of rising sea levels — and ultimately those severe flooding events.

“Now we have the ability to look into the future and project the sea-level rise and see the consequences and to plan and construct,” said Jim Murley, Miami-Dade’s chief resilience officer. “Those are billion-dollar projects.”

Murley says the primary focus when it comes to sea-level rise is not right at the shoreline — it actually involves inland areas.

“Our No. 1 priority working with the state and federal government is to update the basic regional drainage system,” he said.

Canals used to carry water out to the coast are now in need of an updated design and upgraded pumps to handle stormwater and tidal flooding.

“The original design thought that the water inland would be a foot and a half higher than the water in the bay,” Murley said. “So water flows downhill and we had a good drainage system. Since Hurricane Andrew, we’ve had four inches of sea-level rise.”

People living in certain neighborhoods say tidal events can bring water nearly up to their doors.

“When the king tides go in, the whole street is flooded and it’s just a mess,” one said.

A South Florida community on the front lines has already invested millions in innovations to keep streets from flooding.

“The people breaking ground on this is the city of Miami Beach,” Murley said. “They’re out there, they get these impacts before the mainland.”

Miami Beach’s new pump systems and elevated streets have made an impact in several neighborhoods, including parts of West Avenue where Tim Carr lives.

“A lot of good came out, for example, you’ll see we don’t flood anymore,” Carr said.

But in areas like Palm and Hibiscus islands, how much roads were raised left some neighbors’ homes sitting several feet below the streets.

“There’s a lot of controversy talking about how much do you actually elevate in this process?” Carr said.

The county is now looking into help for residents to finance changes like elevating or flood-proofing their homes — just one more example, Murley says, of how everyone is in this together.

“We start the long process of preparing for sea-level rise and making the investments that will protect our property and people,” Murley said.

Among the other priorities: getting people off of vulnerable septic systems, shoring up critical county facilities as well as access to safe and affordable housing options. But it is a long and costly to-do list.

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About the Author:

Amy Viteri is an Emmy Award-winning journalist who joined Local 10 News in September 2015. She's currently an investigative reporter and enjoys uncovering issues facing South Florida communities. A native of the Washington, D.C., area, she's happy to be back in South Florida, where she earned a masters degree at the University of Miami.