The tide is rising; that is no longer in doubt. Miami-Dade must prepare for sea-level rise made inevitable by the billions of tons of greenhouse gases already dumped into the atmosphere worldwide. We exist on a sliver of ground between the Everglades and the Atlantic Ocean only made dry by a complex network of canals and locks. We measure our elevation above the sea in single digits, making South Florida internationally recognized as one of the most vulnerable places on Earth to sea-level rise.
Climate change presents a host of challenges for our future, but none nearer to the present than sea-level rise. Data from the South Florida Water Management District shows that nearly half of the drainage capacity of our canals would be lost with a mere six inches of sea-level rise, potentially turning what are now normal rainfalls into damaging floods. A greater rise would have sea water push inland, constraining our primary drinking-water source and septic and stormwater drainage systems would begin to fail with regularity.
Recently, an impressive “rising tide” of civic activists, including articulate and inspiring high school students, spoke before the County Commission demanding that we work faster to find solutions to problems that we will otherwise be abandoning to their generation. Their passionate and powerful words of frustration and hope for our future must be a clarion call for bold action.
I came to office 10 months ago thinking we could move quickly beyond studies to action on this issue. I had anticipated that with Miami-Dade being a party to the Southeast Florida Climate Change Compact (a four-county collaborative), and having studied the issue in depth for several years through the Climate Change Advisory Task Force, and in even greater detail with the Sea Level Rise Task Force, we would be ready to execute adaptation plans.
But, sadly, we are not.
Fortunately we are moving forward in some critical areas. We recently adopted our Sea Level Rise Task Force’s recommendations, and receive quarterly updates on those reports to guide our planning. Our Water & Sewer department has integrated sea-level rise projections into major construction projects, and has developed a new computer tool to model how underground water movement responds to changes in sea level. The Commission adopted my resolution calling for a refresh of our “GreenPrint” sustainability plan which will update climate change strategies, and Miami-Dade will continue to pursue the purchase of critical wetland habitat in the far southern reaches of the county through our Environmentally Endangered Lands program. These are great steps, but there is much more to do.
I championed the county becoming part of the Rockefeller 100 Resilient Cities challenge and am delighted by the Miami Foundation’s stewardship and County Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s support. In response to this opportunity and, more important, to the demands of the public, the mayor is recasting our Sustainability Office as the Office of Resilience and putting funds toward the advancement of the plans coming from the Sea Level Rise Task Force. We must continue to collaborate and seek the best ideas from cities around the world like the U.S.-China Climate Change Summit where Mayor Gimenez and I shared ideas with local officials. Climate change must be addressed locally to achieve global impact.
The county and our local government partners must step up the pace of climate-change adaptation. We must move faster to advance Everglades Restoration and redesign our water delivery and disposal systems in the face of climate change. We must protect and expand natural systems along our coasts and low lying areas to provide a buffer to sea level rise. And we must reevaluate where we build and how we build.
The seas are rising and, if ignored, will harm the most vulnerable among us first, as any disaster inevitably does. We have an opportunity to show the nation and the world how to become a sustainable and vibrant city in the face of climate change, but we must act now. I commend Mayor Gimenez and my colleagues for having taken important steps. I especially commend the rising tide of civic activists who powerfully made their case during this budget season. We must do more. The seas will not wait.
Daniella Levine Cava is a member of the Miami-Dade County Commission, representing District 8.