South Florida’s porous limestone geology also limits the effectiveness of coastal dikes, with the pressure of the rising sea likely to push up ground water levels far inland. With a three-foot rise, studies have shown that much of the western side of Miami Beach would be inundated during high tides — but so would vast swathes of western Miami-Dade and Broward, including communities like Weston.
“We have a lot of people who are building out in the west and they think they’re not in a flood zone,” said Frederick Bloetscher, an associate professor of civil engineering at Florida Atlantic University.
With ground water at the surface, there would be nowhere for rain to drain in western communities, he said. “It’s like filling up your coffee cup when it’s already full.”
The Netherlands also doesn’t have to deal with hurricanes or the threat of increasingly destructive storm surge.
Still, Bloetscher and other South Florida experts agreed the success of the Dutch suggests that much of South Florida could survive sea-rise as a “highly managed system.’’
“It’s not all doom and gloom,” he said. “I feel better looking at some of the Dutch solutions.”
He envisions a similar array of engineering tools for South Florida — elevated roads and homes, storm water systems that would collect runoff and recycle it for home or irrigation use. Like in the Netherlands, it would all require a lot of around-the-clock pumping. Despite a potential cost in the tens of billions of dollars, he believes the public will support protecting property and an economy worth trillions. The costs, he said, would seem less daunting spread out over decades.
“The good thing is, we don’t have to do anything tomorrow,” he said.
Unlike in the United States, Morris said, there is little debate in the Netherlands about the government investing in projects designed to deal with climate change and the threat of potentially catastrophic flooding.
“If you do nothing, people are going to die,’’ he said. “That’s unacceptable. In the Netherlands, it’s a different mindset.”