In Miami, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson holds sea level rise hearing Tuesday



A day before U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is set to hold a special hearing on sea level rise in Miami Beach, environmentalists teamed up with water managers to spotlight a particularly vulnerable link in South Florida’s massive water control system.

Standing beside the C-6 canal, an industrial-looking channel carved out of the Miami River just west of the Miami Jai-Alai fronton, Jayantha “Obey” Obeysekera, the chief modeler for the South Florida Water Management District, ordered pumps fired up to demonstrate how water managers are trying to counter seas that have risen about seven inches in the last century. When the canal was dredged in the 1950s to control flooding, he said, it was outfitted with a massive steel gate that simply opened when it needed to let water out.

But if seas continue to rise, the water will be too high to open the gates, built to accommodate no more than a six-inch change in sea level. That leaves only pumps installed seven years ago to contend with flooding in western Miami-Dade County.

“That six inches is gone, or will be gone pretty soon if the projection is realized,” Obeysekera said. “The structures built in the ’50s are not functioning as expected because of sea level rise.”

For many environmentalists, South Florida’s community of 5.5 million is considered ground zero for sea level rise. Obeysekera’s demonstration on Monday was one stop on a tour organized by the World Resources Institute, Florida Atlantic University and the Miami-based nonprofit CLEO Institute — Climate Leadership Engagement Opportunities — to showcase the area’s vulnerability.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, Nelson will hold a hearing to address South Florida’s “changing coastline” at Miami Beach City Hall. The hearing, which will include testimony from a half dozen witnesses, is intended to give an overview of the federal government’s take on climate science and efforts to reduce carbon emissions that fuel climate change. Miami tops the list of American cities most at risk, with an estimated $416 billion in assets that could be affected by sea level rise, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

“States need resources to deal with climate change. The national folks haven’t made it a priority,” said Rob Cowin, director of government affairs for the Union of Concerned Scientists, which also helped organize the tour. “We need leadership and we need help.”

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