The White House on Thursday honored a Broward County 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 identified by the White House 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, 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 are among those doing "smart, innovative work to protect the health, safety and prosperity of their communities in the face of climate change."
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"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’s lucky to work in a county where climate and its impact is considered a priority. Budget constraints and political resistance have slowed planning in some coastal communities. In North Carolina, for example, the state 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," Jurado said.
But many coastal communities have begun 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 specific references to the possibility of a 9- to 24-inch sea level rise by 2060.
They’ve also changed land use maps to show the areas that are vulnerable to coastal flooding under a two-foot rise in sea level. Any land use decisions in those areas will have to take into account sea level rise. They’ve also begun planning for the consequences of salt-water intrusion into fresh water supplies and the effect 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 hopes Broward County and the other counties in the partnership will be a model for other coastal communities in Florida and around the country. She and others from South Florida will continue to press Congress for more action on climate change. That includes pushing Congress to consider the need for the infrastructure to protect coastal communities.
Erika Bolstad can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org