White House honors Florida scientist Jennifer Jurado for work on climate change

04/11/2013 1:15 PM

04/11/2013 1:20 PM

The White House on Thursday honored a Broward County, Fla., scientist who helped launch a multi-county initiative to address sea level rise and other consequences of climate change in South Florida.

Jennifer Jurado, who heads the Broward County Natural Resources Planning and Management Division, was among 12 people the White House identified as "Champions of Change" for preparing their communities for the consequences of climate change.

Jurado helped create the four-county Regional Climate Change Compact, which has worked to prepare Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Monroe counties for rising seas, extreme weather and other problems associated with a changing climate. Jurado, 38, of Hollywood, Fla., has a doctorate from the University of Miami and is a marine biologist by training.

Nancy Sutley, who heads the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said the honorees were among those doing "smart, innovative work to protect the health, safety and prosperity of their communities in the face of climate change."

"As we take action to reduce carbon pollution and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy, we must also take action to prepare for the impacts of climate change we are already seeing, including more frequent and severe extreme weather," Sutley said.

Jurado said she was lucky to work in a county in which climate and its impact were considered a priority. Budget constraints and political resistance have slowed planning in some coastal communities. In North Carolina, for example, the Republican-led legislature passed a law prohibiting the state from considering projected sea-level rise in its coastal management strategy.

"The perspective of our community has been one of that there’s a responsibility to investigate the practicality of our circumstance and then to share that information," she said. "The economic risks and exposures are quite great.”

Many coastal communities have begun such planning, most notably New York City, which saw the consequences of rising sea levels when superstorm Sandy hit last year. In Broward County, the comprehensive planning documents now include references to the possibility of a 9- to 24-inch sea level rise by 2060.

Officials also have changed land-use maps to show the areas that would be vulnerable to coastal flooding under a 2-foot increase in sea level. Any land-use decisions in those areas will have to take sea level rise into account. They’ve also begun planning for the consequences of saltwater intrusion into fresh water supplies and the effect that sea level rise will have on the state’s intricate drainage and canal systems.

"The fact that sea level rise is upon us and something that we have to plan for is very prominent in our comprehensive planning documents," Jurado said.

Jurado said she hoped that Broward and the other counties in the partnership would be a model for other coastal communities in Florida and around the country. She and others from South Florida plan to continue pressing Congress for more action on climate change. That includes considering the need for the infrastructure to protect coastal communities.

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