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Florida Officials and Scientists Urge Presidential Candidates to Address Sea-Level Rise

An open letter calls on Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to address the challenges posed by rising seas as a result of climate change
hollywood sunrise, fort lauderdale, florida, hollywood beach



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More than 120 Florida officials and scientists sent a letter to the campaigns of President Obama and Mitt Romney last week, urging the candidates to address sea-level rise in their final debate and during tours of the state.

The action comes at a time when four counties in southeast Florida are weighing passage of a regional climate plan, completed this month, that sets broad goals on how to alter Florida infrastructure for rising seas and warming temperatures. Broward County, which includes Fort Lauderdale, is set to consider the plan as early as this month, as well as incorporate some of its recommendations by early January in the county's comprehensive plan, which governs long-term land use.

In the letter, which was delivered to both the state and national campaign headquarters of the Romney and Obama campaigns, the officials and scientists note that tide gauges in Florida documented an 8-inch rise in sea level in the 20th century.

"This rise in sea level is now resulting in the flooding of city streets and parking areas at seasonal high tides, the abandonment of drinking water wells in coastal communities due to salt water intrusion, and the failure of flood control structures to operate during high tides," states the letter.

Florida mayors, county commissioners, engineers, economists and scientists signed the letter, which was released by the Union of Concerned Scientists. They posed three questions for Obama and Romney to address during Florida stops and at an Oct. 22 debate in Boca Raton, including "What will be the federal government's planning and policy priorities in order to reduce the risks of sea level rise?"

Obama mentions climate change in Miami
The Obama and Romney campaigns did not respond to a request for comment. The Union of Concerned Scientists released an email from Katherine Archuleta, national political director for the Obama campaign, stating that she would forward the letter to the "policy team."

Obama is under pressure from environmental groups and some wealthy donors to discuss the impacts of climate change on the campaign trail. They believe that its near-omission from the high-profile race is disproportionate to the consequences of rising temperatures. He may be hearing them.

Obama mentioned climate change several times in campaign speeches last week, including in Ohio, California and Florida.

On Thursday, the president told a Miami crowd that he will advance the clean energy sector if he is re-elected.

"And it will be good for our environment," Obama said. "It will do something about carbon in our atmosphere -- and that is not a joke. That is not a hoax. That's our children's future. And folks here in Miami understand that better than anybody, because the impact of climate change will be significant on our kids and our grandkids unless we take those steps. We can't just deny our way out of these things. It's a threat to our children's future."

Romney has said that greenhouse gas regulations threaten the coal industry and the economy.

"The regulatory burden under this administration has just gone crazy," Romney said last week. "They, of course, want to regulate dust."

There also has been some push-back in Florida. During hearings on Broward's plan, some residents told commissioners that they believed climate change was a hoax and members of the real estate industry urged caution on the idea of altering building codes, according to the south Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Many current climate models project that average sea levels could rise by 3 feet or more by the end of century. Officials from four southeast Florida counties agreed in the action plan on the possibility of 9 to 24 inches of rise by 2060.

South Fla. faces major expenses
Technology options such as levees are not viable in south Florida, because the region's geology is porous like Swiss cheese. That means that rising seas would seep underneath sea walls.

Officials say rising seas threaten to push salt water farther inland underground into freshwater drinking wells -- a condition that already was problematic because of drainage of the Everglades (ClimateWire, Jan. 10).

In areas that already have flooding problems, such as a Fort Lauderdale neighborhood where residents sometimes wade to their cars during high tides, officials have been experimenting with valves on drainage pipes that prevent water from flowing backward onto roadways.

The efforts have helped but are not keeping streets in the neighborhood completely free of water, said Jennifer Jurado, a director of the Broward County Natural Resources Planning and Management Division. Fort Lauderdale also plans to elevate a major bridge this January because of worries about flooding, she said.

In Miami Beach, city officials also are considering a $206 million revamp of the entire storm drainage system that takes sea-level rise into account. The city's public works director said at a public hearing this fall that it was the first time "that any community in south Florida, and actually in the entire state of Florida, is taking into account sea-level rise as they plan their stormwater infrastructure."

Passage of the regional climate plan and a new county comprehensive plan could help with the situation in Broward County by requiring new assessments of base elevations of buildings in flood zones, Jurado said.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500

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