Tampa Bay Times

October 13, 2017


As Floodwaters Rise, so do Government's Responsibilities





During the hurricane season in Florida, it doesn't really matter where you stand on the science of climate change. Particularly if you are standing in hip-deep water. The reality is that flooding is becoming a more prevalent problem, no matter what the reason, and state and local leaders should more aggressively work to prevent it.


A Tampa Bay Times report highlighted the serious flooding issues in the Jacksonville area in the wake of Hurricane Irma. The St. Johns River, which feeds into the Atlantic Ocean, dangerously backs up during high tide and can contribute to a massive storm surge in the right conditions. Irma already had been downgraded to a tropical storm and merely brushed the outskirts of Jacksonville, yet it produced a record storm surge in parts of the city.


THE CITY THAT NEVER DRAINS: A weak hurricane could drown Jacksonville. Will its leaders protect it in time?


Jacksonville is not alone. Miami also did not take a direct hit from Irma, and yet the main road through Miami's financial district became a 3-foot-deep river. Closer to home, the Alafia and Withlacoochee rivers have been near record levels in recent weeks, chasing residents from their homes and destroying houses.


Perhaps an argument could be made that 2017 is an anomaly, that a particularly nasty hurricane season is solely to blame for flooding across the state. But that ignores the reality of sea level rise. And it doesn't matter whether the primary causes of climate change are man-made or not. What matters are the strategies to limit the dangers of storm surge and other flooding issues.


In Miami Beach, the city has been aggressive with plans to combat this problem. Stormwater fees were raised more than 50 percent to pay for borrowing money to install pumps, increase the elevation of streets and raise sea walls in a $400 million project.


Yet in Jacksonville, the city has dragged its feet in implementing a strategy recommended by recent studies that detailed Duval County's weaknesses. A majority of the projects are unfunded, and there's been particular negligence in the region's most impoverished, and vulnerable, areas.


These are not glamorous undertakings that provide politicians with great photo ops or pithy bumper stickers. But these infrastructure projects are vital to the long-term well-being of communities across the state. St. Petersburg residents, who have seen millions of gallons of sewage overflowing in streets and bays in the past two years, can testify to the importance of repairing, replacing and planning for infrastructure.


This should not be a political argument. It is a basic issue of governance. Florida politicians can debate the causes of climate change, but they cannot deny the consequences or avoid responsibility for limiting its impact.