Climate Change in Coastal Communities

Rising sea levels can affect many industries at an alarming rate. When we think of these particular changes to climate, we think about coastal communities and how they will be impacted. So, how will certain coastal communities adapt to the inevitable changes?

Usually, the real estate industry does not speak much about potential climate change problems, but back in August, Zillow, a popular online real estate database company, spoke about the risk to coastal properties nationwide. In this report, states with a reputation for year round sun will suffer the most if rising ocean level trends continue.

Almost half of the total losses projected could occur in Florida, with over $400 billion in current housing value gone. Another projection states Florida could lose 1 in 8 homes. Hawaii, another tropical destination, could lose 1 in 10. Yet these numbers and talks of climate change have not affected the sunshine state of Florida as projections would have assumed. Cities such as Miami and Fort Lauderdale are expecting a real estate boom. The South Florida community of Fort Lauderdale lies mostly just two feet above sea level and already floods multiple times a year. It is currently undergoing a massive real estate boom even considering it has about 165 miles of canals, making the area particularly vulnerable to rising seas.

The city is expected to grow by a third, with about 50,000 people expected to move to Fort Lauderdale in the next fifteen years, and currently, the city doesn’t have the housing to be able to accommodate these people so there are building booms in response to these changes within the city limits. Like most of South Florida, the city sits on top of a limestone bedrock. This limestone is very porous, which means when sea levels rise they not only creep over the sea walls, they also creep through the underlying bedrock of the city. This will lead to water creeping under homes and into the streets. This would essentially affect every part of the city, water being the heart and soul of Fort Lauderdale.

Other cities that may be affected are preparing in a big way. Miami Beach, where nearly 37,500 homes could be affected, plans to spend a half-billion dollars over the next several years to install pumps and raise roads and seawalls. The restructure of sea walls is a response in the massive ‘King Tides’ that are already causing damage more than they used to. Another water loving city, New York City, has a potential of 32,000 homes that would take on water with a six foot rise in sea levels.

Events such as Superstorm Sandy demonstrated that sea level increases, along with a strong super storm, can lead to unimaginable coastal destruction. New Jersey, in particular, demonstrated that a restructure and rebuilding of their coastal communities takes years, as they are still rebuilding four years after the storm.

What would happen if there were anything comparable to Sandy in the next couple of decades? It’s hard to believe that we’d be able to accomplish the same type of coastal rebuilding without making preparations for these events now, especially since science makes it clear such storm surges are going to become commonplace around mid-century. Thankfully there is adaptation to help reduce the long-term costs of climate change impacts.

For more information, please visit the EPA website on coastal communities.

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