Environment

Miami-Dade turns to nature to combat sea-level rise

Miami-Dade County has teamed up with the Nature Conservancy and engineering firm CH2M to study how much protection wetlands and mangroves east of the county’s landfill, Mt. Trashmore, provide for the nearby wastewater treatment plant against sea rise.
Miami-Dade County has teamed up with the Nature Conservancy and engineering firm CH2M to study how much protection wetlands and mangroves east of the county’s landfill, Mt. Trashmore, provide for the nearby wastewater treatment plant against sea rise. Miami Herald

Miami-Dade County, long criticized for being too slow to take on climate change, is teaming up with the Nature Conservancy and global engineering firm CH2M to look at the region’s natural defenses to sea rise.

On Tuesday, Chief Resilience Officer Jim Murley unveiled two pilot projects for the modeling, including the county’s sprawling wastewater treatment plant near Cutler Bay, where about $1 billion in infrastructure is already vulnerable to flooding from high tides and storms. Earlier this month, a new study found that if South Florida continues growing as projected, more of its residents will be at risk from sea rise than in any other state. The state also has the most amount of property at risk.

We can make nature work for us in concert with traditional infrastructure.

Chief Resilience Officer Jim Murley

“We can make nature work for us in concert with traditional infrastructure,” Murley told a group gathered at a Coral Gables hotel ballroom that included both international business interests and environmentalists.

CH2M, which is overseeing the county’s $3.3 billion effort to stop dumping wastewater — under a statewide mandate —into the ocean by 2025, will try to quantify how much nearby marshes protect the low-lying plant from sea-level rise. The marshes are also part of a critical Everglades restoration project approved by Congress in 2000 aimed at restoring the natural flow of water to revive Biscayne Bay.

While CH2M’s modeling will focus on the plant, South Florida Area Manager Matt Alvarez said the firm plans to share any relevant findings with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing the wetlands restoration.

We’re modeling the benefits of nature and hybrid solutions.

CH2M South Florida Area Manager Matt Alvarez

“Our purpose is to illustrate the natural benefits to actual construction,” he said. “We’re modeling the benefits of nature and hybrid solutions.”

The team hopes to show that natural defenses to sea-level rise, including wave-busting mangroves and coral reefs susceptible to climate change, can lower construction costs and lead to better conservation efforts.

“We expect by re-hydrating wetlands, that will make mangroves that much more protective,” said Chris Bergh, the Nature Conservancy’s South Florida Conservation Director. “Now that assumption needs to be born out by modeling.”

A second project would look at improving areas around Wagner Creek, the gritty waterway that winds through downtown Miami and was once considered one of the state’s dirtiest waterways. The county is in the midst of clean-up work and will start the resiliency modeling when it’s complete. The sewer-plant project starts next month.

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