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Florida spending millions to adapt to potentially catastrophic sea level rise

Peter DeWitt with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management speaking with CBS 12's Jay O'Brien. (WPEC).{ }
Peter DeWitt with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management speaking with CBS 12's Jay O'Brien. (WPEC).
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An overwhelming number of experts warn Florida is facing a potential climate crisis, pushed forward by the threat of continued sea-level rise.

The speed at which sea levels are rising has accelerated over the last decade, growing to 1 inch of coastline lost every three years, according to the group

While climate change is still considered a divisive partisan issue between Democrats and Republicans, Florida is bridging the gap to fight a potentially shrinking coastline.

In January, as Gov. Ron DeSantis announced what he wanted to see in an upcoming state budget, the popular conservative governor called for $1 billion dollars to fund projects aimed at adapting infrastructure for sea-level rise. The legislature eventually cut the governor’s request roughly in half but did also create tax incentives for Floridians who remodel their homes to adapt to rising sea levels, according to one GOP lawmaker.

Hundreds of millions of that money will go to counties and other municipalities to fund infrastructure projects, aimed at adapting to rising sea levels. The projects could include things like drainage systems and better sea walls.

The funding, however, is also extremely significant because a Republican governor addressed the impacts of climate change and its effects on the Sunshine State.

“[This is] to address the impacts of intensified storms, localized flooding, and sea-level rise,” DeSantis said in January when unveiling his state budget requests. “We believe that this makes a lot of economic sense.”

DeSantis has also faced criticism that he is funding projects to adapt to sea-level rise, while not pushing Florida to limit the greenhouse gas emissions that ultimately contribute to global warming.

Environmental experts like Dr. Colin Polsky warn that, even before coastal communities see the devastating impact of things like higher floods, they could see serious economic issues. Rising sea level, Polsky explains, could tank some property values and even injure businesses.

“That’s what you call a dis-amenity if your lawn is flooded a certain number and a growing number of days per year. It's not good for property value,” Polsky said.

Polsky, the Director of the Center for Environmental Studies at Florida Atlantic University, warns experts are bracing for large-scale sea-level rise in the next few decades.

The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact estimates sea levels are projected to rise 10 to 17 inches by 2040 and 54 inches by 2070.

Meanwhile, at the Jupiter inlet, crews there are contending with a steadily rising tide. Peter DeWitt, the program manager stationed at the inlet for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, said he’s seen dozens of feet of shoreline disappear over the last 8 years. DeWitt says much of the shoreline has washed away due to erosion, caused by things like boating, shoreline construction, and sea-level rise.

“It's possible that mother nature and sea-level rise can overcome whatever we prepare for,” said DeWitt, who added he’s optimistic conditions can improve. “Truly only time will tell. But it isn’t just addressing climate change, truly it's addressing all the system of impacts.”

At the inlet, they’re mounting a $500 million dollar project to stem the tide of some of the coastline erosion.

“[It is] to provide natural shoreline protection as well as habitat for the fish communities,” said George Gentile, with the Jupiter Inlet District, which is funding the bulk of the project. “We definitely want it sustainable. And as the sea level rises it's going to be coming into the upland areas and you really have nothing there that’s going to be a habitat.”

Overall, some coastal communities like the inlet are preparing, while others are stuck in a waiting game. Polsky says now is the time for Floridians to begin to adapt to rising seas before it's too late.

“It's more a question of - to keep us dry - what we call adapting,” Polsky said, adding adapting infrastructure is a short-term fix and curbing overall greenhouse gas emissions is the only thing to stop massive sea-level rise. “We’re not just sitting here letting it happen. there’s some real concerted effort to figure out what to do and to do it.”

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