Sea level rise threatens to eat away the Everglades | Opinion

By Steve Davis
July 2, 2018

 

For those of us living along the lower east coast of Florida, the Everglades is a backyard wilderness, the source of our drinking water and an important hurricane buffer. It is also a flat, low-lying wetland with an imperceptible slope, making it quite vulnerable to sea-level rise.

Once a 50-mile-wide “River of Grass” extending from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay, the Everglades is now divided by canals and levees into units we know as Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve and the Water Conservation Areas.

Now half its original size, the remaining Everglades ecosystem still encompasses more than 2.5 million acres and consists of a variety of habitats that are adapted to extremely low nutrient levels and a range of flooding conditions by either freshwater or saltwater. Scientists have been investigating what is likely to happen to the Everglades when those flooding patterns are altered by rapid rates of sea-level rise.

Many people assume that as sea level rises, mangroves will gradually migrate landward, replacing freshwater sawgrass near the coast. This landward migration of mangroves and other coastal habitats is well documented, and there is strong evidence that this process has been exacerbated further by water management activities, which reduce freshwater flow from the Everglades to the coast.

It doesn’t take a scientist to see the effects. Anyone who drives to Flamingo or Key Largo can observe how far the mangroves have advanced inland over the last few decades.

Given that mangroves provide valuable coastal wetland habitat, trading sawgrass for mangroves may not be such a bad thing, right? Unfortunately, it is not that simple.

The interaction of water, salinity and plants can dramatically affect the integrity and elevation of the soil that supports these habitats.

In freshwater sawgrass marshes and salty mangroves of the Everglades, organic soils (called peat soils) develop under persistent flooding. Peat soils are comprised of plant matter that accumulates faster than it decomposes, forming a blanket of sorts on top of South Florida’s porous limestone bedrock.

In the deepest freshwater marshes, peat soils average 2 to 3 feet in thickness. In Everglades mangroves, peat soil thickness can exceed 10 feet.

When we deprive marshes of freshwater, peat soils break down, resulting in soil loss. In fact, it has been estimated that some marshes in the park have lost as much as 3 feet of soil elevation in the era of water management.

A more complicated and destructive outcome results when freshwater marshes, which are already receiving less freshwater, are increasingly exposed to saltwater before mangroves become established. An example is Cape Sable, the landmass at the southwestern-most tip of Florida.

In the 1920s, canals were dug into Cape Sable to drain the freshwater marshes but instead facilitated saltwater intrusion. By the time aerial photography became widely available in the 1930s and 40s, much of this freshwater marsh had disappeared, converting to open water rather than a mangrove forest.

Research by Dr. Hal Wanless of the University of Miami suggested that saltwater accelerated the breakdown and collapse of these freshwater marshes on Cape Sable. His work inspired scientists from Florida International University led by Dr. Tiffany Troxler, the Everglades Foundation, Everglades National Park, and the South Florida Water Management District to develop experiments focused on understanding how and why peat soil collapses.

This research, which is supported by Florida Sea Grant and the National Science Foundation, will improve how we assess wetland vulnerability to sea-level rise and perhaps identify better water or habitat management options.

Through this work and other science, we are learning that a “perfect storm” of sea-level rise, low freshwater flow (because of water management) and saltwater intrusion can cause peat soil to disappear faster than it can accumulate – transforming an affected area to open water, not to mangrove forest.

In the Everglades, collapsed areas appear as large puddles in the landscape surrounded by vegetation. Over time, collapsed areas of marsh coalesce into larger areas, releasing nutrients once sequestered in the peat soil into the environment where they wreak havoc in the Everglades and coastal waters such as Florida Bay or Biscayne Bay.

Peat soil is to the Everglades as sediments and coastal marshes are to the Louisiana Delta, and loss of peat soil can result in the loss of land.

When such drastic ecological changes occur so rapidly, it is difficult to predict what chain of events will follow. However, we know that we are accelerating peat collapse and shaping the future coastline of the Everglades under the current system of water management.

Until we restore the flow of freshwater to Everglades National Park, we are short-circuiting the natural transition to mangroves and possibly increasing South Florida’s future coastal vulnerability.

Dr. Steve Davis is the Senior Ecologist for The Everglades Foundation.

“The Invading Sea” is a collaboration of four South Florida media organizations — the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald, Palm Beach Post and WLRN Public Media.

Florida estuaries-fragile buffers against a rising ocean

By Dinah Voyles Pulver, dinah.pulver@news-jrnl.com

Source: GateHouse Media

To anyone who has reeled in a prized redfish or plucked an oyster from the water and eaten it straight out of the shell, the value of a healthy Florida estuary needs little explanation. Created by an earlier period of rising seas, Florida’s estuaries are fragile zones where fresh water flowing from springs and rivers mingles with salt water in a balance that ebbs and flows in a rhythm set by weather and phases of the moon.

The estuaries provide a sheltered, nutrient-rich environment for abundant marine life and serve as nurseries for the surrounding oceans. They also generate billions of dollars of economic impact each year from commercial and recreational fishing, boating and bird-watching. And, for much of the state, they provide a buffer against tropical storms and hurricanes.

Now, scientists and advocates warn these estuaries could be redefined as they become Florida’s last stand against the encroaching sea.

Rising sea levels “will reshape the coastline of Florida in ways that are almost difficult for humans to wrap their arms around,” said Duane DeFreese, executive director of the Indian River Lagoon Council. “It’s hard for us to look 50 or 100 years ahead, but it’s going to change dramatically.”

Already, rising seas and warmer temperatures bring higher tides, greater erosion, higher salinity and increasing acidity along the bays, sounds and lagoons that surround Florida. Dying trees have been documented in coastal forests in the Big Bend region along the Gulf Coast south of Tallahassee as saltier water moves inland. Erosion is eating away at shell middens in Mosquito Lagoon, in the northern end of the Indian River Lagoon.

Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predict sea levels could rise around three feet as early as 2070 in Florida, using mid-range scenarios. Their higher-end scenarios show a three-foot sea level rise could occur within about 30 years.

One study by The Nature Conservancy found a 3.2-foot rise in sea level would cause the loss of more than 170,000 acres of coastal forest and 63,000 acres of tidal flats in six estuary systems along Florida’s Gulf Coast between Pensacola Bay and Charlotte Harbor.

‘Nursery for the oceans’

Estuaries are often called cradles of the sea because of the tremendous variety of marine species that spend at least part of their life cycles there, such as green turtles, bull sharks, tarpon and other game fish. seagrass beds, marshes and the tangled roots of mangrove trees that grow in the fragile zones provide food and shelter for myriad species, from delicate seahorses to massive manatees.

A bottlenose dolphin breaks the surface as it feeds with several other dolphins in the Indian River in Mosquito Lagoon. [News-Journal/David Tucker]

“It’s crazy the number of marine organisms that spend some portion of their life cycle in an estuary,” said Edie Widder, chief executive officer and senior scientist at Ocean Research & Conservation Association Inc. in Fort Pierce. “They are a nursery for the oceans.” Given the small amount of real estate they cover, Widder said the estuaries have “an incredibly outsized impact on the oceans.”

Estuaries drive a lot of the economy of the United States, said DeFreese.

The reason estuaries are so valuable — and so fertile — is because they’re transition zones, where nutrients that run off the land help increase the productivity, said Jim Culter, senior scientist and program manager at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota.

Changes in the balance of nutrients or in the balance of fresh and salt water can have a big impact. Studies by the U.S. Geological Survey have found that salinity increases during droughts can cause blue crabs to move upstream, and decreases in fresh water can reduce oyster populations.

As sea levels rise, Culter said the ocean will move farther inland and areas that host the fragile balance of salt and fresh water will shrink. Many estuaries already suffer from issues unrelated to sea level, such as loads of pollution and severely altered watersheds that provide either too much or too little fresh water.

Jim Culter, a senior scientist at Mote Marine Laboratory, and his team prepare to measure southern hardshell clams before planting them in a Sarasota Bay estuary on June 3. (Herald-Tribune photo / Carla Varisco)

A Geological Survey study released in June examined 28 years of data collected in 10 Florida estuaries that support commercial shellfish harvesting. The study, by John Lisle and Leslie Robbins, published in the journal “Estuaries and Coasts,” found the water in estuaries is getting more acidic, which limits availability of the components of calcium carbonate — crucial for animals such as oysters to build their shells. The study also found that oxygen levels in the water are decreasing. Six of the 10 estuaries have increased salinity and three have increasing water temperatures.

The estuaries, the scientists concluded, are being affected by changes taking place worldwide, including increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, development along the coast and increased nutrients in the water. The estuaries studied included St. Joseph, Cedar Key, south Tampa Bay, the St. Johns River North and three sections of the Indian River Lagoon.

Additional pressure from a changing climate and rising sea levels will cause further damage, said coastal ecologists and estuary advocates. Some, such as Arnoldo Valle-Levinson, a professor in the University of Florida’s Civil and Coastal Engineering department, wonder if sea level rise is partly to blame for ongoing troubles in the Indian River Lagoon, which has been plagued in recent years by toxic algal blooms, vanishing seagrass and fish kills.

‘A game of inches’

To describe how sea level rise might change things, scientists at Mote Marine Laboratory say when seas rise two feet in Sarasota Bay, the very lowest tides will be where today’s highest tides are.

Nuisance high tides already occur across the state, said Randall Parkinson, a coastal geologist affiliated with Florida International University.

In June, a NOAA study reported the average annual frequency of high tide flooding in the continental U.S. hit an all-time record in the past year. In Florida, new records for number of days with high tide flooding were set in Naples and Cedar Key between May 2017 and April 2018, and all 17 tide stations had high tide flooding above frequencies seen nearly 20 years ago.

The Salt River in the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge on Florida’s Gulf Coast is one of Florida’s many coastal estuaries. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says nutrient-rich estuaries around the country provide essential habitat for more than 75 percent of the nation’s commercial fish catch. Scientists are trying to determine what the impacts of rising sea levels will be on that fish production. (FWC photo provided by Kyle Miller)

That trend is expected to continue, likely at an accelerated rate, the study’s authors concluded, exacerbated by a combination of high astronomical tides, winter storms and tropical storms.

Hurricane Irma’s impacts were felt across much of Florida in September 2017, but it was just one of several named and unnamed storms that caused trouble over a period of months during the fall and winter.

Incremental rises in sea level are increasingly making communities along estuaries more vulnerable, with the potential for adding thousands of dollars in flood damages, said DeFreese. “This is a game of inches.”

As rising seawater penetrates farther and farther inland into tidal and freshwater creeks, it will gradually change the function and form of wetlands and other ecosystems that surround the estuaries, said Parkinson, who is preparing a vulnerability assessment for the Indian River Lagoon.

Estuaries will become saltier, and areas of brackish water along the waterways will shrink. The areas of estuaries that fluctuate in salinity will be more compressed and move upstream in the creeks and rivers that feed freshwater to the estuaries.

Modeling the future

Scientists have been able to look at how rising sea levels will impact coastal wetlands and forests by using the “Sea Level Affecting Marshes Model,” developed in the 1980s to study the impacts of the changing climate. Scientists can put in decades of data, including water level measurements and elevations, and examine potential impacts across a system.

Laura Geselbracht, senior marine scientist at the Florida Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

Laura Geselbracht, a senior marine scientist at the Florida Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, started by looking at Apalachicola Bay, eventually expanding the study with her colleagues across the northern Gulf Coast and as far south as Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor. They looked at how sea level rise would impact coastal habitat and human communities along six estuaries.

“One thing we did notice is that with, say, as little as 0.6 meters of sea level rise — about a foot and a half — you see significant changes,” said Geselbracht. “And in some areas we’ve already seen significant changes.

“In places like the southern Big Bend, you can see sea level rise in action,” she added. “You can see where it’s been and what impact it has had.”

They concluded more than 170,000 acres of coastal forest could be lost with a 39-inch increase in sea level in the Gulf of Mexico, a rise that NOAA’s mid-range scenarios project could happen in some locations along the Gulf by 2070.

The study found 63,000 acres of tidal flats could be lost across the six estuaries, including 36,000 acres in Tampa Bay. When tide flats and dunes are lost, said Geselbracht, “urban areas become more vulnerable to coastal storms.”

They checked their model by putting in decades worth of data collected at Waccasassa Bay, near Cedar Key on the Gulf Coast, to see if it would accurately project the changes now occurring. It did, said Geselbracht.

Overall, coastal wetlands along the state’s Gulf Coast are likely to change substantially, she said, including inland river floodplains on the northern Gulf Coast. If you squeeze an area where a species occurs, she said, “you’d anticipate you’d greatly reduce the population of that species.”

The marine life affected by these shrinking estuaries are some of “the ones we care most about,” said Culter. “Oysters, blue crabs, clams, scallops, shellfish and things that are common that we fish for.”

Kelly McLoughlin, an intern at Mote Marine Laboratory, measures clams before they are planted in a Sarasota Bay estuary in June. (Herald-Tribune photo / Carla Varisco)

That will in turn have an impact on commercial fisheries and their contribution to local economies. The filter feeders, such as clams and oysters, also are important for water quality.

Culter is working on shellfish restoration projects, including placing clams in Sarasota Bay and watching their growth.

Seagrass beds, which form the foundation of marine life in many estuaries, also are expected to feel the impact of rising seas. The grass beds are important because they provide places for marine life to shelter and forage and they absorb nutrients and carbon.

But the grass beds may be one example of an instance where sea level rise will cause changes that might not be considered good or bad, just different.

Deeper water levels are expected to make it more difficult for seagrass to thrive and grow in some locations because the grass can only grow in areas where sunlight can penetrate to the bottom. For example, said Culter, the average depth of seagrass in Sarasota Bay might be six feet. As sea level rises, those grass beds will start to lose their deep edges as the water becomes too deep for the sunlight to reach the grass.

But, depending on water quality, seagrass beds might move to new areas that go underwater. Geselbracht said grass beds might colonize some of the tidal flats as they become submerged.

Transitions among the ecosystems will depend in part on the amount of undeveloped land available for marshes and other estuary features to move to, and how much that migration is blocked by existing development.

As the ecosystems change, studies indicate some species could be “winners,” and others might be “losers.” For example, with salt marsh projected to expand in some areas, it’s possible some animals might benefit, such as the salt marsh vole, an endangered rodent found near Cedar Key. Bird species that use tidal flats, such as the reddish egret, for example, could suffer as the flats shrink.

But no one understands those impacts on species yet, said Jon Oetting, a conservation planner with the Florida Natural Areas Inventory. Much will depend on how rapidly the transitions occur and how much the habitats are separated from each other.

As the marshes expand or shrink, it could have profound impacts on the surrounding estuaries, said Geselbracht. “Some people might think ‘Oh that’s just a marsh,’ but that marsh is worth millions of dollars in recreational and commercial benefits.”

Terns take flight from a small sandbar in Mosquito Lagoon in the Indian River Lagoon system in March. (News-Journal / David Tucker])

Appraising a marsh

It’s relatively easy to put a monetary value on things like homes, condominiums and infrastructure, said Jennifer Kassakian, a senior associate at Industrial Economics, a consulting firm that has studied the Indian River Lagoon. It’s harder to put a monetary value on ecological resources.

Kassakian has worked on projects that help people understand the value ecological communities provide, economically and otherwise. For example, an estuary has value as a nursery ground for marine species, including commercially important species such as crabs, clams and fish.

Using the same model The Nature Conservancy scientists used, she and a colleague, Jim Neumann, a principal at Industrial Economics, looked at the impacts of sea level rise on wetlands in the Indian River Lagoon.

The study showed there would be “substantial change” in the lagoon, including the loss of irregularly inundated marshes and swamps and substantial gains in acres of mangroves and open water, she said. The study, which looked at the amount of carbon dioxide that could be absorbed by the lagoon and surrounding plants, concluded the estuary would see an increase in carbon storage, but a decrease in productivity.

With a 47-inch rise in sea level, the study concluded the lagoon overall would see a loss of 24 percent of its wetlands.

Wetlands are important because they provide a buffer for storm surge and absorb the energy from waves. “If you don’t have that buffer,” said Kassakian, “if you allow that water to come straight up to people’s houses, that’s a pretty direct impact.”

Correcting problems

Estuary groups across Florida are assessing “vulnerabilities” and pinpointing areas where intervention, such as limiting new development, might have the most impact. Several are working in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate Ready Estuaries program.

“People like simple answers,” said Culter. “They want things to be fixed. That’s not going to happen. It’s going to take a lot of thought and discussion to deal with it.”

University of Central Florida students and faculty work to place shell bags along the shoreline of Mosquito Lagoon to stabilize the shoreline on a Sunday in May. UCF professor Linda Walters and her students and partners have worked on the project to stablize shorelines in the lagoon system by creating living shorelines for more than a decade. (News-Journal / Nigel Cook)

Correcting the many existing problems in the estuaries will help make them more resilient to change, said estuary officials on both coasts.

Rather than trying to “slap a Band-Aid” on things, it’s important to think long-term, looking at long-term strategies and large-scale, multiyear projects that can really get to some of the root problems, said Jennifer Hecker, executive director of the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program.

Like many estuaries statewide, the watershed around Charlotte Harbor has been greatly altered. Many areas in Hecker’s region are either not receiving enough water or receiving too much water. Utilities in the region are learning to correctly manage the water, she said, “to build communities that will be better protected from the harmful effects of a changing climate.”

If the region can store water and protect its freshwater supplies, said Hecker, the hope is that they will be able to “push back on sea level rise and saltwater intrusion to the greatest degree possible.”

A similar strategy is needed for the Indian River Lagoon, said DeFreese. Every action that makes the lagoon system more resilient to sea level rise comes back to human impacts already identified, he said. “It’s wastewater, it’s stormwater, it’s living shoreline replacement, and it’s getting filter feeders back into the system.”

Parkinson, the consultant studying the vulnerabilities of the Indian River Lagoon, said preparing plans is one thing. Implementing the plans is “a much bigger challenge,” he said. “It requires people to make decisions that may not directly benefit them and it costs money.”

He sees three options for implementing the plans being developed across the state: 1) Protect and defend, 2) Adapt, or 3) Managed withdrawal from low-lying coastal areas.

Saving the shorelines

As groups around the state prepare to protect and defend, retaining or increasing the amount of natural, “living shoreline” is shaping up to be a key strategy. In areas where the shores are lined with marsh grasses, mangroves and oysters, the shorelines have the potential to help the land keep pace with rising sea levels, several scientists said. Safeguarding shorelines could help with the transition of coastal wetlands as seas rise.

Linda Walters, a biology professor at the University of Central Florida, is among those convinced living shorelines will be an important part of the solution. For more than a decade, she has worked with nonprofits, businesses and schools to collect oyster shells, grow mangroves, then place marsh grasses, mangroves and bags of oyster shells along shorelines all over the Indian River Lagoon system.

University of Central Florida students and faculty place shell bags along the shoreline of Mosquito Lagoon on a Sunday in May. Living shorelines such as this one, created with oysters, grass and mangroves, may help Florida’s estuaries transition as sea levels rise. Here, University of Central Florida (News-Journal / Nigel Cook)

Once established, oysters provide habitat for birds and fish as well as a hard structure that can protect shorelines from erosion, and wind and wave energy, she said. On the shorelines Walters has developed, the oysters are the initial defenders, providing wave breaks that give the plants time to get established. Marsh grasses help protect mangrove trees, and once the mangroves are established, their intertwined roots begin trapping sediment moving in the water and gradually the surface of the soil rises.

These shorelines with oysters, marsh grass and mangroves can accumulate sediment faster than the sea level is rising in some estuaries, and may help coastal wetlands transition from one kind to another as sea levels rise.

If the water in an estuary is allowed to move naturally up a slope, the mangrove trees will follow that transitional zone, said Candy Feller, a senior scientist and mangrove expert at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Maryland. “In a perfect world, they will keep pace with rising sea levels.”

The problem in Florida is that people like the land-sea margin, said Feller. “They’ve built their houses there and their seawalls and everything.”

Parkinson and others say seawalls aren’t the answer.

“You can’t just build a wall,” because Florida is built on limestone and sand, he said. “The water would just go under or behind the seawall.”

The other option Parkinson raised is withdrawal from the shoreline. It’s “the only plan that is viable in the long term,” he said. “The longer we delay making the right choices, the more difficult it is to implement a plan and the more expensive it’s going to be.”

As DeFreese travels along the Indian River Lagoon, he said he’s beginning to see evidence of change in attitudes toward preparing for long-term sea level rise.

Widder, however, said she still sees too much “head in the sand thinking.”

“This is just going to be catastrophic for us,” she said. “Florida is so vulnerable. For us not to be anticipating the kinds of problems that we’re going to be facing is shortsighted and damaging to all of us.”

 

Florida has more to lose with sea rise than anywhere else in the U.S., new study says

June 18, 2018 10:43 AM

Updated June 18, 2018 02:07 PM

Researchers Seek to Improve Hurricane Evacuations and Fuel Supply

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University News

By DEBORAH CIRCELLI / JUN 11, 2018, 12:28 PM

 

As Hurricane season begins this month, a team of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University professors and graduate students have been charged with studying Hurricane Irma’s mass evacuation and provide recommendations for a smoother exodus in the future.

With a state of emergency declared and mandatory evacuations issued throughout the state as Hurricane Irma approached Florida last September, millions heeded the warnings. Highways, interstates and the Florida Turnpike quickly turned into parking lots as about 7 million people were ordered to evacuate before the powerful Category 4 storm made landfall. Vehicles and gas stations ran out of fuel causing gridlocks.

The Embry-Riddle study, which will continue through February 2019, will provide an analysis to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) on Irma’s evacuation and fuel shortages that occurred. The team on Embry-Riddle’s Daytona Beach Campus will identify opportunities and vulnerabilities that currently exist; make policy recommendations for more efficient future evacuations; and suggest how to improve allocation of resources and better equip areas to avoid fuel shortages.

“If you know in advance which areas will be hardest hit, priority treatment can be given to refueling those gas stations,” said Sirish Namilae, Ph.D., assistant professor of Aerospace Engineering and principal investigator on the project along with co-principal investigator Dahai Liu, Ph.D., professor with the School of Graduate Studies, and their graduate students Sabique Islam and Dimitrios Garis.

The research is part of a sub-grant from the Center for Advanced Transportation Mobility, a consortium led by North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University through the DOT’s University Transportation Centers Program.

With use of Embry-Riddle’s Cray® CS™ cluster supercomputer, various scenarios and simulations will be conducted, including calculating factors such as fuel levels of individual cars, evacuation routes, number of lanes on various roads, gas station locations, and incidents of emergencies and traffic jams due to random accidents and gas shortages.

“By conducting simulation runs within specified parameters, we hope to get a better picture of what occurs when the masses are forced to move along a particular path and how it affects them,” said Garis, an Aeronautics master’s student working with professor Liu. “We hope this research will provide emergency evacuation planners with an idea of what can be done to help speed up traffic flow and ensure evacuees make it out of the danger areas faster.”

Namilae is adapting a particle dynamics mathematical model he and a previous team developed to study pedestrian movement and ways to reduce the spread of infectious diseases on commercial airlines and at airports. Algorithms will be derived that will help provide real-time data during future evacuations.  The team will perform a detailed case study of evacuation out of Florida from Miami-Dade County on Interstate 95, Florida’s Turnpike and Interstate 75.

Public data from the Florida Department of Transportation is also being reviewed and data from tech company GasBuddy, whose app and website database of more than 140,000 gas station convenience stores, includes real-time fuel price information, station locations, offerings and reviews.

“This research uses a combination of theories and ideas borrowed from different avenues of science such as disease transmission modeling, sensor fusion algorithms from aerospace engineering and probability of random numbers from computational mathematics,” said Islam, a graduate teaching assistant studying Aerospace Engineering. “The outcome will help teach future researchers to employ different methods to their research and have an open mind when it comes to attacking scientific problems from different aspects.”

Government policies in place with respect to refueling will be studied along with processes for phased closing and opening of gas stations.

“We are looking at whether fuel restrictions placed on cars could help to get more cars out, since during a hurricane there are limited supplies for each gas station and gasoline cannot be delivered to gas stations promptly due to traffic constraints,” Liu said. “This type of situation is hard to investigate as it involves many factors that are complex and studies are extremely limited.”

FTA Sending Almost $23 Million to Transit Systems Across Florida

June 2, 2018 – 6:00am

 

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced this week that it is sending almost $23 million to public transit systems across the Sunshine State that were damaged by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is sending  $22.8 million to 15 public transit systems based in Florida. This is part of $330 million that Congress approved for the  FTA’s Emergency Relief Program back in February. The bulk of those funds–$223.5 million–are headed to Puerto Rico while Texas is getting $23.3 million and $6.7 million is for the U.S. Virgin Islands.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who advocated for those funds on Capitol Hill, applauded the news.

“This is welcome news for a number of transit systems in Florida,” said Nelson this week.  “For months they’ve had to struggle to find ways to pay for damages caused by last year’s devastating hurricanes. Thankfully, they’re finally getting some relief.”

Most of the FTA money headed to the Sunshine State is penciled in for South Florida. The Miami-Dade Department of Transportation and Public Works is getting $11.4 million while the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority is getting $1.14 million. Broward County is getting $857,000, Collier County is penciled in for $226,000, the city of Key West claiming $209,000 and Lee County receiving $515,000.

Other systems across the state are also getting FTA money with the Jacksonville Transportation Authority getting $734,000, Lynx/Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority receiving $432,000, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority getting $80,000 while $111,000 is headed for Sarasota County, $153,000 to Brevard County, $57,000 to Charlotte County, another $110,000 to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, $70,000 to the Manatee County Board of County Commissioners and Tallahassee’s StarMetro getting $41,000.

Electric Vehicles Begin To Bite Into Oil Demand

 

Projections have suggested that the advent of electric vehicles will have a dramatic impact on oil demand and now its starting to show. With China adding the equivalent of London’s bus fleet every 5 weeks, that’s 279,000 barrels of oil a day removed from demand.

The latest report from Bloomberg New Energy shows that economics are driving the change, with the total cost of ownership of electric buses far outperforming the alternatives. The report says a 110kWh battery e-bus coupled with the most expensive wireless charging reaches parity with a diesel bus on total cost of ownership at around 60,000 km traveled per year (37,000 miles). This means that a bus with the smallest battery, even when coupled with the most expensive charging option, would be cheaper to run in a medium-sized city, where buses travel on average 170km/day (106 miles).

Today large cities with high annual bus mileages therefore choose from a number of electric options, all cheaper than diesel and CNG buses. The BNEF report says, ‘Even the most expensive electric bus at 80,000km per year has a TCO of $0.92/km, just at par with diesel buses. Compared to a CNG bus, it is around $0.11/km cheaper in terms of the TCO. This indicates that in a megacity, where buses travel at least 220km/day, using even the most expensive 350kWh e-bus instead of a CNG bus could bring around $130,000 in operational cost savings over the 15-year lifetime of a bus.

For every 1,000 battery-powered buses on the road, about 500 barrels a day of diesel fuel will be displaced from the market, according to BNEF calculations. In 2018, the volume of oil-based fuel demand that buses remove from the market may rise 37 % to 279,000 barrels a day, or approximately the equivalent of the oil consumption of Greece. By 2040, this number could rise as high as 8 million barrels per day (bpd).

This will make a significant dent in oil demand but overall the market appears confident that petrochemicals will make up the difference in demand. That question remains open however, as the plastics market particularly continues to evolve.

Stephen George, chief economist at KBC, agrees with the International Energy Agency predictions that petrochemicals will grow to replace transport fuel demand. His projections don’t show a peak in oil demand, rather a plateau around 2040 ranging between 110 and 110 million bpd, with no signs of a peak and drop by 2050.

He does accept that everybody uses different scenarios and that the strategies need to be resilient in facing market change and says, “I see the majors embracing renewables more than previously.” Oil demand however will continue to increase due predominantly to plastics growth.

Today the U.S. is the biggest per capita consumer of plastics at 150 kg per person per year. That includes bottles, packaging, durable goods (many cars now built out of plastic); 3-d printing and a myriad number of uses. Europe and Japan are not far behind and George predicts that demographics and the growth of the middle class will drive up the global average which is currently 45 kgs per person per year.

China alone has gone from 5kgs to the global average in 5 years and is expected to drag the global average up as it grows. India is bound to follow and while its consumption is roughly around 8-10kgs per capita this is likely to develop rapidly.

So it’s the downstream derivatives of oil that are going to drive demand with George saying, “150kgs per capita is the non combustible oil demand that replaces the transport fuel demand.”

The real question it seems is whether this will be new plastics, or recycled and reused. New methods are arising constantly, driven by new regulation and breakthroughs in technology. In April 2018, it was announced that scientists had accidently discovered an enzyme that eats plastic, which when scaled up could have a significant impact on the way in which plastic is treated within the economy.

At the moment it ends up predominantly as a waste product, clogging up pipes, water sources, beaches and in dumps. If we find a plastics breakthrough, from recycling, to bioplastics to new forms of processing, the future line of oil demand could look very different.

The intersection of innovation and global challenges such as climate change and sustainable development are driving change in the economy. A founder of The Net Imperative Ltd and New Energy Finance (later bought by Bloomberg), author of Conquering Carbon: Carbon Emissions, Carbon Markets and the Consumer and a journalist for many years, I teach on the MSc Global Energy and Climate Policy and Finance, Sustainability and Climate Change at School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.

Most Americans say climate change affects their local community, including two-thirds living near coast

A road in Flagler Beach, Florida, washed out by ocean waters stirred up by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A road in Flagler Beach, Florida, washed out by ocean waters stirred up by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

 

Roughly six-in-ten Americans (59%) say climate change is currently affecting their local community either a great deal or some, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

Some 31% of Americans say the effects of climate change are affecting them personally, while 28% say climate change is affecting their local community but its effects are not impacting them in a personal way.

As is the case on many climate change questions, perceptions of whether and how much climate change is affecting local communities are closely tied with political party affiliation. About three-quarters of Democrats (76%) say climate change is affecting their local community at least some, while roughly a third of Republicans say this (35%).

But politics is not the only factor related to these views. Americans who live near a coastline are more likely than those who live further away to say climate change is affecting their local community. Two-thirds of Americans who live within 25 miles of a coastline (67%) say climate change is affecting their local community at least some. In contrast, half of those who live 300 miles or more from the coast say climate change is affecting their community.

This difference exists among both Republicans and Democrats. For example, 42% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who live within 25 miles of a coastline say climate change is affecting their local community, compared with 28% of Republicans who live 300 miles or more from the coast. And about eight-in-ten Democrats and Democratic leaners (81%) living within 25 miles of a coastline see a local impact from climate change, compared with 69% of Democrats living at least 300 miles inland.

Scientists say sea levels are rising, and a recent study found this is happening at an increasing rate. Sea level rise could endanger coastal communities, which are especially vulnerable to floods and storm surges.

Americans who live near the coast are also somewhat more likely than those in interior areas to say the effects of climate change are affecting them personally: 37% of those who live within 25 miles of a coastline say this, compared with 25% of those who live 300 or more miles inland.

In the new survey, the Center also asked people who said climate change is affecting their local community to describe those effects in an open-ended format. People who live close to a coastline and people who live further away tend to point to similar effects. For example, 44% of those who live within 25 miles of a coastline and 46% of those who live more than 300 miles away say climate change is currently affecting their community through weather and temperature changes.

Americans in coastal areas differ from those further inland in at least one other way: Those living within 25 miles of a coastline are less likely than those living 300 or more miles away to favor expanding offshore drilling for oil and gas (33% vs 42%). This modest difference reflects the fact that Democrats are more likely than Republicans to live within 25 miles of a coastline, since neither Democrats’ nor Republicans’ views of offshore drilling differ by distance from the coast.

A Pew Research Center survey conducted in January found somewhat lower levels of support for more offshore drilling among those living within 25 miles of a coastline.

Note: To calculate the distance to the nearest point on the U.S. coastline, respondents with valid ZIP codes were located at the ZIP code centroid (from the 2016 definition of the ZIP code tabulation areas provided by the Census Bureau). The minimum distance between each respondent’s ZIP code and the nearest point on the coastline was calculated using the spherical law of cosines approximation.

TOPICS: SCIENCE AND INNOVATION, ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT, POLITICAL ISSUE PRIORITIES

  1. Photo of Brian Kennedy

    is a research associate focusing on science and society at Pew Research Center.

Sea-level rise: the defining issue of the century | Editorial

May 4, 2018, 8:00 AM

 

No graver threat faces the future of South Florida than the accelerating pace of sea-level rise. In the past century, the sea has risen 9 inches. In the past 23 years, it’s risen 3 inches. By 2060, it’s predicted to rise another 2 feet, with no sign of slowing down.

Think about that. Water levels could easily be 2 feet higher in 40 years. And scientists say that’s a conservative estimate. Because of melting ice sheets and how oceans circulate, there’s a chance South Florida’s sea level could be 3 feet higher by 2060 and as much as 8 feet by 2100, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

It’s not just a matter of how much land we’re going to lose, though the barrier islands and low-lying communities will be largely uninhabitable once the ocean rises by 3 feet. It’s a matter of what can be saved. And elsewhere, how we’re going to manage the retreat.

You see the evidence several times a year in Miami Beach, the finger isles of Fort Lauderdale and along the Intracoastal Waterway in Delray Beach. During king tides on sunny days, seawater bubbles up through storm drains and over seawalls into lawns, streets and storefronts. That didn’t happen 20 years ago, but it’s going to happen more and more.

JIM MORIN CARTOON 5/6/18 (Climate Change Sea Level Rise)
JIM MORIN CARTOON – Original Credit: Jim Morin – Original Source: Handout (Courtesy)

 

Of the 25 American cities most vulnerable to sea-level rise, 22 are in Florida, according to the nonprofit research group Climate Central. They’re not all along the coast, either. Along with New York City and Miami, the inland cities of Pembroke Pines, Coral Springs and Miramar round out the top five.

Flooding also is increasing in South Florida’s western communities — like Miami-Dade’s Sweetwater and The Acreage in Palm Beach County — because seawater is pushing inward through our porous limestone foundation and upward into our aged flood control systems, diminishing capacity. Sawgrass Mills in western Broward closed for three days last year because the region’s stormwater system couldn’t handle a heavy afternoon thunderstorm. You’ve never seen that before.

The encroaching sea is bringing sea critters, too. Catfish were spotted swimming through floodwater at a Pompano Beach apartment complex west of I-95 last year. And don’t forget the octopus that bubbled up through a stormwater drain in a Miami Beach parking garage.

Not a distant threat

More than the rest of the country, South Floridians get it. The Yale Climate Opinion Maps show 75 percent of us believe global warming is happening, even if we don’t all agree on the cause. We understand that when water gets hotter, it expands. And warmer waters are melting the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. If all of Greenland’s ice were to melt — and make no mistake, it’s melting at an increasing clip — scientists say ocean waters could rise 20 feet.

The problem is, we’re not convinced sea-level rise will harm us in our lifetimes. We’ve got to change that mindset because it already is. Like most of us, Doris Edelman of Hollywood hadn’t heard of king tides five years ago. Now she can’t leave her house those autumn days when king tides lift the Intracoastal Waterway over its banks, over her street and halfway up her driveway. Hers is not an isolated case.

One of the reasons sea-level rise feels like a distant threat is because construction cranes still dot our skylines, the population keeps growing and politicians keep approving new developments.

Yet government officials see the danger ahead. South Florida’s four counties have created a climate compact that, among many things, requires new construction to anticipate that minimal 2-foot rise in water levels by 2060.

However, sea-level rise is not yet on the short-term horizons of the mortgage and insurance industries. Perhaps that’s because lenders generally recoup their money within 10 years and insurers can cancel your policy year to year.

But government officials well know their successors will be stuck with abandoned properties when the water rises. And part of their responsibility will be to clean the debris to ensure pristine ocean water for future generations.

Perhaps you think you’re safe because the flood map shows your home is on high ground. But you still need infrastructure — things like roads, power plants, water treatment facilities, airports and drinking-water wellfields. So while your house may be high and dry, good luck getting to the grocery store, the doctor’s office or out of town.

It’s tricky to trumpet the threat headed our way. Scientists like Harold Wanless, a noted University of Miami coastal geologist, have the freedom to be blunt. He says says the local projection understates the accelerating rate of rise. “By the end of the century and just after,” Wanless says, “South Florida will be a greatly diminished place and sea level will be rising at a foot or more per decade.”

But local leaders fear scaring people and damaging our economy. Though our region is certain to be reshaped, they express confidence that we can adapt if we start planning now to raise roads, elevate buildings, update the region’s 70-year-old flood control system, buy out flood-prone properties and make smart choices about what to save and where to invest.

Leadership lacking elsewhere

At the federal level, little leadership is being shown on the threat of sea-level rise. President Trump recently rolled back the Obama-era order that requires infrastructure projects, like roads and bridges, be designed to survive rising sea levels. And though membership is growing in Congress’ Climate Solutions Caucus, too many Republican members still deny the reality of climate change and sea-level rise, perhaps fearing political retribution by right-wing deniers. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio resides in that camp.

In Tallahassee, after years of silence on sea-level rise, Gov. Rick Scott this year finally requested $3.6 million — a pittance, really — to help local governments plan. But despite the efforts of some South Florida lawmakers, the issue wasn’t on the Legislature’s agenda, partly because of the politics of climate change and partly because term limits create a revolving door of lawmakers who focus on today’s hot buttons, not tomorrow’s existential threats.

“It’s not something we’ve taken a position on,” Cragin Mosteller, communications director for the Florida Association of Counties, said in December when asked about sea-level rise. “We represent 67 counties who have differing opinions … So for us, we’re trying to focus on the things counties need to manage water.”

Mark Wilson, president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, says that to get Tallahassee’s attention, we must first raise public awareness. Then, people need to make their voices heard.

“I travel the state more than anybody but the governor. I promise you that people are not demanding that their local House member and their local senator drop what they’re doing and do something about sea-level rise,” Wilson said. “The solution is to raise awareness to it.”

Raising our region’s voice

To that end, the editorial boards of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post — with reporting help from WLRN radio — are joining hands in an unprecedented collaboration this election year to raise awareness about the threat facing South Florida from sea-level rise. In drumbeat fashion, we plan to inform, engage, provoke and build momentum to address the slow-motion tidal wave coming our way.

Sea-level rise is the defining issue of the 21st Century for South Florida. Some of us might not live long enough to see its full effects, but our children and grandchildren will. To prepare for a future that will look far different, we’ve got to start planning and adapting today.

“The Invading Sea” is a collaboration of the editorial boards of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, with reporting and community engagement assistance from WLRN Public Media. For more information, go to InvadingSea.com

Editorials are the opinion of the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board and written by one of its members or a designee. The Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Rosemary O’Hara, Elana Simms, Andy Reid and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson.

State gives first look at possible Coastal Connector highway routes

All five of the proposed routes meet again at U.S. 27 near Fellowship and west of Golden Ocala Golf and Equestrian Club.

State road planners on Thursday revealed a spaghetti map of possible routes for the proposed “Coastal Connector” highway project — including one that could bring a new interchange at Interstate 75 in north Marion County.

The plan is in its earliest stages and the current study is only gathering public input. The highway would connect north Central Florida with the Tampa area and run through Citrus and Marion County. The new road, likely a toll road, would reduce the strain on Interstate 75 with the goal of keeping up with growth and improving transportation and future emergency evacuations.

The project is decades from fruition with no construction expected before 2045, according to Harry Pinzon, an environmental engineer with the Florida Department of Transportation.

The five routes unveiled on Thursday all start at the end of State Road 589 (Suncoast Parkway) which is now set to end at State Road 44 in Citrus County but could go as far north as County Road 486 in Citrus. From there, the routes split off and would cross over the Withlacoochee River at one of four points between Lake Rousseau to the west and near State Road 200 to the east

All five of the proposed routes meet again at U.S. 27 near Fellowship and west of Golden Ocala Golf and Equestrian Club. The road would continue north and would either follow the current path of State Road 326 east to U.S. Highway 441 or would continue north and exit just south of the U.S. 441/U.S. 301 split. The more northerly route would not mirror an existing road and would need a new interchange at I-75.

While still in the very preliminary stages, Randy and Sally Keller came out to a public meeting held in Crystal River on Thursday evening to see where their property sat in relation to the routes. A similar meeting is set for Ocala on May 1 at the Hilton Ocala, 3600 SW 36th Avenue at 4 p.m.

Turns out their 5-acre lot is only a few hundred feet away from one of the proposed routes.

“It’s kind of scary,” said Sally Keller. “Now I know why we’ve gotten six letters from people wanting to know if we wanted to sell. I knew something was up.”

The Kellers live in Brooksville and their property near Dunnellon is raw land.

But dozens more attended the meeting and many huddled around several big screen monitors to try and pinpoint their homes. Some routes do overlap existing home sites.

For Sandra Marraffino, who lives in Dunnellon, none of the proposed routes crossing the Withlacoochee are ideal.

“That is all very sensitive land from an ecological standpoint,” Marraffino said.

Tens of thousands of birds nest on islands on Lake Rousseau and the route closest to State Road 200 would cut through Halpata Tastanaki Preserve, home to a population of Florida Scrub Jays. The dwindling species is only found in Central Florida. In between, there are other bird habitats including burrowing owl, said Marraffino, a member of the Marion Audubon Society.

Her suggestion for a route crosses the Withlacoochee further west and takes the road through Levy County and into Alachua County.

Despite some misgivings, all those approached at Thursday’s meeting agreed that a new road is necessary given the state’s growing population and the bottlenecks formed during Hurricane Irma evacuations last year.

“We are really open to what’s going on,” said Nancy Huff, who also lives near one of the routes. “But it’s going to take so long, who knows what it will really look like.”

Learn more

• Watch the state presentation about this possible new road at http://www.coastalconnector.com/onlinemeeting2/. The site also has links to a map of the proposed corridors.

• See documents about the study at http://www.floridasturnpike.com/coastalconnector.html#resources

 

Trump’s highly touted infrastructure dream nixed for this year

Infrastructure is an early casualty of Washington’s fixation on the November mid-term elections. Retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and others are signaling that Trump’s $200 billion federal infrastructure plan is all but dead for this year.

By John D. Schulz · April 18, 2018

 

Wait ‘til next year. Maybe.

If promises were concrete and asphalt, this country would have the world class infrastructure that President Donald Trump keeps talking about. Unfortunately, it takes careful planning, political will and, most importantly, billions of dollars. All those characteristics are in short supply in the Trump administration.

Infrastructure is an early casualty of Washington’s fixation on the November mid-term elections. Retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and others are signaling that Trump’s $200 billion federal infrastructure plan is all but dead for this year.

Even Trump admits infrastructure is dead until 2019—or maybe forever. He has been talking about infrastructure improvements for at least three years since the early days of his candidacy, often calling U.S. roads and bridges akin to “a Third World country.”

“I don’t think you’re going to get Democrat support very much,” Trump said in Ohio recently, before adding: “And you’ll probably have to wait until after the election, which isn’t so long down the road. But we’re going to get this infrastructure going.”

Maybe yes, but maybe no. There is the not-so-small area of how to pay for these improvements without resorting to usual Washington bookkeeping and scorekeeping trickery. Truckers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce briefly floated a nickel-a-year increase in the fuel tax—18.4 cents a gallon on gasoline, 24.4 cents on diesel, unchanged since 1993—but that trial balloon crashed and burned by the no-tax pledge signed by most Republicans in Congress.

In more bad news, a planned infrastructure fund by the private equity firm Blackstone that was said to be creating up to $40 billion in private money has been slow to get off the ground. Saudi Arabia was supposed to be the fund’s largest backer, but they have backed off. Saudi money was supposed to be half of the $40 billion.

According to a New York Times report, Blackstone’s goal is now $15 billion, but even that figure is suspect because of lukewarm returns on infrastructure investments.

So that leaves truckers and other motorists absorbing billions of dollars in delays and repairs due to outdated infrastructure at highways, bridges and intermodal facilities around the country.

American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear has estimated the trucking industry currently loses nearly $50 billion annually to congestion. “That is unacceptable,” he said recently. “We must unclog our arteries and highways and make our infrastructure safer and more efficient by investing in our roads and bridges.”

Jim Burnley IV, who was Transportation Secretary under Ronald Reagan, said working on an infrastructure program in an election year is a neat political trick—and one just not possible in the current political climate.

“Sadly, that’s probably true,” Burnley, now a partner with the Venable Inc. law firm in Washington, told LM. “We’re just not in a political environment where big, bold infrastructure programs are available.”

With the Highway Trust Fund collapsing, Burnley said, the time is ripe for bold, new thinking. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), from 2021 to 2026 trust fund revenue is projected to total $243 billion. But outlays will amount to $364 billion, resulting in an imbalance of $121 billion. Each year during this period, the trust fund faces shortfalls of between $19 billion to $23 billion, the CBO says.

“Was it this hard when I was there? Yes,” Burnley said. “I hope Congress will have the political will to really come to grips with that fundamental resource. That doesn’t mean dramatic increases in the fuel tax. There are almost an infinite other ways to do it. But the political will has to be there—and right now it isn’t.”

Even if funding is coming from Washington, a majority of it appears heading to rural states that supported Trump. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao recently said DOT awarded more than 64% of this round of TIGER funding was for rural projects, as opposed to bottlenecks in and around urban areas.

The only thing the White House has been able to produce on infrastructure this year is a vow to expedite review and permitting for major U.S. infrastructure projects. It establishes a lead federal agency with a commitment to oversee any major projects, but few details how this will streamline complex deals. Under the current process, agencies may conduct their own environmental review and permitting processes sequentially resulting in unnecessary delay, redundant analysis, and revisiting of decisions.  Now federal agencies conduct their processes at the same time.

But at least that was welcome news in some quarters of the business community looking for any action on infrastructure.

“(That) is a welcome change that will not only expedite review and approval of important infrastructure projects, but also help increase American competitiveness and economic growth,” said Mike Burke, Chairman and CEO of AECOM and Chair of the Business Roundtable Infrastructure Committee. “While much work remains to revitalize our nation’s aging infrastructure, this is a vital step forward in accelerating long-overdue infrastructure improvements throughout the country.”

Illinois Roads and Transportation Builders Association President and CEO Michael Sturino said while the plan helps cut through red tape, it probably won’t help Illinois because it favors rural (Republican-leaning) states at the expense of blue states.

“This is really going to go to more of the Wyomings, and the Oklahomas, and the Dakotas, those very sparsely populated states,” Sturino told the Illinois News Network.

About the Author

John D. Schulz has been a transportation journalist for more than 20 years, specializing in the trucking industry. John is on a first-name basis with scores of top-level trucking executives who are able to give shippers their latest insights on the industry on a regular basis.