Nature’s water cycle is amazing and free. Solar energy lifts fresh water from the ocean as vapor, transports it over the land with wind currents and deposits precipitation on Florida at an average rate of about 150 billion gallons each day.
About 15 billion gallons of this rainfall daily recharges the state’s natural underground water storage and conveyance system. The remaining 90 percent evaporates or runs off in rivers to the ocean. This is like a natural Jacuzzi, bathing Florida’s environment in life-giving freshwater at no cost.
Fast forward to 2018. Humans have corralled and re-directed Florida’s natural water cycle to fulfill their own desires. Florida’s rivers and lakes are widely impaired due to poorly regulated pollutant discharges and excessive withdrawals. Increasingly, Floridians have turned to underground waters for supply, first for drinking water and then for nearly every other use, including landscape and crop irrigation that was traditionally supported by rain.
The consequence of this shift is the increasing depletion of Florida’s most precious and least plentiful fresh water supply — the groundwater in Florida’s aquifers. In north and central Florida, the resulting destruction of our natural springs and rivers that rely on groundwater inputs for dry-season baseflow is visible to all who care to look. Downstate in the absence of springs, aquifer depletion is harder to see.
Rather than facing this calamity head on by establishing a cap on groundwater pumping to reserve adequate water to protect natural environments, Florida’s leaders continue to kick the can down the road under cover of poor science and public apathy.
Some of us consume less than 30 gallons per day of groundwater for drinking, bathing and cleaning and are content to rely on rain to water our grass. But the average Floridan consumes closer to 100 gallons per day of groundwater. Just by cutting out unnecessary water uses, we could reduce the public’s 3 billion gallon per day groundwater habit to less than 1 billion gallons per day.
Fortunately, a few areas of the state are concerned enough about depleted aquifers to have already cut historic water uses in half. Unfortunately, the benefits realized by this growing Florida water ethic are undone by a much smaller group of water users — namely for-profit business owners who shamelessly drink for free at the public water trough. With no charge for using groundwater, the cunning few who control the water-permitting system easily gain permits to withdraw gigantic quantities of groundwater at no charge.
While water bottlers are a convenient target for public wrath about this corporate welfare, they are a drop in the bucket compared to phosphate mines, paper mills, industrial farms and others. More than 30,000 consumptive use permits allocate nearly half of all groundwater recharge in Florida’s Springs Region. Averaging more than 150,000 gallons per day each, these permits legalize groundwater extractions that are collectively killing our springs.
Despite compelling evidence that Florida’s springs are drying up, the state’s leaders continue to promote their costly charade justifying new water consumption permits based on obfuscation and flawed groundwater flow models. While restoring Florida’s springs is as easy and free as reducing permitted groundwater allocations, the water management districts would rather bilk taxpayers for the cost of their own water.
For example, St. Johns River Water Management District leaders seriously considered putting a pipe in the Ocklawaha River downstream from Silver Springs and pumping the water to a treatment and recharge system next to the spring at an estimated capital cost of more than $100 million and annual operating costs of nearly $1 million. District employees privately dubbed this ridiculous idea the “Jacuzzi Project.”
The same water district is implementing a $40 million scheme to pump water from Black Creek to restore water levels in the Keystone area lakes. Once again, the cost for this Ponzi scheme will be borne by taxpayers rather than by the businesses who continue to profit by depleting the aquifer.
A series of similar projects are in the planning stages in the Suwannee River Water Management District. Together these two water districts have projected a $300 million price tag to provide “alternative” water supplies to meet future demands.
How can these “public servants” continue to expend public money to implement these unnecessary water supply projects? The simple answer is that they are desperate enough to try anything to keep their jobs. If we don’t demand better of our leaders, you can bet we won’t get it.
Dr. Bob Knight is director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute in High Springs.
Head for the coast, and on a good weekend, thousands of people are at the shore, enjoying the sun, water and sugar-white sands.
Beaches are the original Florida — the lure that drew Northerners to a swampy peninsula decades before Walt Disney’s company decided to make the Sunshine State home.
Today, these original tourist attractions generate billions of dollars for the state economy and support nearly 400,000 jobs. Their salt-air allure is part of the foundation of modern Florida.
“If the beaches weren’t here, Disney would have thought twice about locating (its theme parks) in Florida,” said Kevin Murphy, professor and chair of the Hospitality Services Department at Rosen College of Hospitality Management at University of Central Florida.
“Our sun, sea and sand is the primary reason why people come here.”
Modern threats from toxic algae, erosion, rising sea levels and oil spills have failed to dim the public’s love of these natural wonders. If the weather’s good on a holiday like Labor Day, the sun-loving crowds prove it again and again.
But the numbers prove it, too.
The United States Lifesaving Association, which compiles data from public safety agencies on ocean rescues, estimates that more than 85.7 million people visited Florida beaches in 2017. That’s the highest attendance the organization recorded in the last 10 years.
It also represents more than a quarter of the more than 385 million people nationwide who visited beaches last year, the group said.
At least 43 of Florida’s state parks have beaches. Combined, they welcomed 14 million to 17 million visitors during each of the last five years, according to data from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the Florida Park Service.
That’s higher than the number of people who visited any one of Florida’s theme parks in 2017, except for Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.
Florida’s most popular state park with a beach is Honeymoon Island State Park in Dunedin, near Clearwater. It drew more than 1.5 million visitors in each of the last two years, as many visitors as Universal Orlando’s newest theme park Volcano Bay in its first year of business.
And that’s just part of the story.
The more you look, the more it becomes clear that Florida is the nation’s undisputed beach king.
How Florida leads in beaches
Florida has a geographic advantage that favors its high beach attendance.
It has about 1,350 miles of coastline, more than any other state in the continental U.S, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Although the Sunshine State doesn’t come close to matching Alaska’s 6,640-mile coastline, it has at least 825 miles of coastline with beaches, according to the Florida Shore and Beach Preservation Association.
“Florida uniquely has beaches on two different U.S. coastlines, the Atlantic and the Gulf. This means different wave and water patterns, temperatures and culture,” said Derek Brockbank, executive director of the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association. “Florida also has beaches with different sand composition, ranging from sugary-white, to filled with tropical shells, to golden-hued.”
This diversity in beach landscapes offers different experiences that attract not only tourists, but also Villagers and other Florida residents.
“Our people love to swim,” said Sharon Jones, the Village of Hemingway resident who leads beach trips with The Villages Barefoot Beachcombers, one of at least five beach clubs in the community. “They’re not the kind of people that sit in a chair all day.”
Beyond the abundant coastline and three distinct beach regions to explore, Florida beaches have other significant advantages.
One selling point stands apart in the minds of many tourists planning their beach getaways: a mild climate for most of the year.
So when blizzards cover Nassau County, New York, with piles of snow, visitors can head south to bask in the sun in places like Amelia Island in Nassau County, Florida.
“If you look at some of the great tourist destinations in the world like New York and Paris, they’re not necessarily surrounded by beaches,” said Murphy, of UCF. “But when you look at millions of people coming to Central Florida, which encompasses two coasts, they often plan that visit around the beaches like Daytona Beach and Clearwater. To attract people to the coastal communities is paramount.”
Leading by acclaim
Florida doesn’t thrive as a beach tourism hotspot only by having beaches open all year.
It also has some of the best beaches in the nation, as ranked by several authoritative travel sources.
Florida beaches featured prominently on TripAdvisor’s annual list of the best beaches in the United States, including six in the top 10: Clearwater Beach at No. 1, Siesta Beach in Sarasota at No. 2, South Beach in Miami at No. 4, Fort Lauderdale Beach at No. 6, St. Pete Beach at No. 7 and Hollywood Beach at No. 8.
Those destinations also are favorites on the annual top 10 lists of Dr. Stephen Leatherman, a coastal ecologist at Florida International University. Although he’s one of the world’s top researchers on sea level rise and rip currents, Leatherman is perhaps best known by his nickname, “Dr. Beach.”
This year, he ranked Grayton Beach State Park in Santa Rosa Beach at No. 3 on his list, and Caladesi Island State Park in Dunedin at No. 7. In 2017, Siesta Beach — a frequent entrant on his annual lists — was No. 1.
Attendance to Siesta Beach that year likely received a boost from press coverage of its ranking on the Dr. Beach list that received more than 600 million audience impressions, he said, citing tourism officials in Sarasota.
Other Florida beaches that won his acclaim in prior years include Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys, St. Andrews State Park in Panama City Beach, St. Joseph Peninsula State Park in Port St. Joe, and Fort DeSoto Park in St. Petersburg.
“Florida has clean beaches, clean water, clean sand and good access,” Leatherman said in an interview. “And (Florida beaches) are well-managed.”
To compile his lists, he grades beaches using a set of 50 criteria that includes the color and softness of sand, whether wildlife is present, and whether the beach has scenic vistas or is close to urban areas.
The most important qualities Leatherman looks for in a beach are the cleanliness of the water, public safety, and how well the beach is managed.
“If you don’t have clean water, you don’t have anything,” he said. “The Department of Health checks our water, and it’s excellent. There’s places where it’s not very good, but overall, our water quality is very good in Florida.”
Why beaches matter to Florida’s economy
Depending on where you go, the cost of a beach visit in Florida ranges from free to inexpensive.
Yet, they play a major role in Florida’s economy.
Tourism and recreation in the state’s coastal counties — not limited to, but including beaches — contributed more than $16 billion to Florida’s gross domestic product in 2011, 2012, and 2015, according to the most recent research available from the National Ocean Economics Program, which monitors the ocean economies of the U.S.
Florida and California, a state with $22 billion in GDP and more than 418,000 jobs tied to coastal tourism, together comprise one-third of the nation’s total employment and GDP tied to coastal tourism.
“The reason we don’t have state income taxes (in Florida) is because of the people coming to the beaches,” said Luke Cunningham, a charter boat captain in Clearwater. “It’s a critical part of our economy, that’s for sure.”
It’s certainly critical to Cunningham and many other people, since coastal tourism and recreation supported more than 397,000 jobs in 2015, according to the National Ocean Economics Program.
In its latest economic study on Florida beaches, also from 2015, the state’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research found beaches generate $5.40 for every dollar the state invests on beach management and restoration.
The study reviewed tourist spending related to beach travel compared with state leaders’ beach management and restoration investments during the 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13 fiscal years.
During that time, state leaders spent about $44 million in taxpayer dollars in beach management projects that improved and enhanced the quality of Florida beaches.
That work contributed to more than $764 million in beach spending from domestic and international visitors, the report showed.
Many out-of-state visitors identify Florida with beaches more than they do theme parks.
In fact, the state Economic and Demographic Research study found that 25.5 percent of visitors to Florida called beaches the most attractive feature of the state’s brand. Theme parks trailed slightly at 24.3 percent.
“It may be noted that, while beaches are the most attractive feature to visitors, they generally do not directly generate revenue,” the report stated. “Instead, they facilitate an array of expenditures that collectively comprise the cost of the tourism experience.”
The beach tends to be such a lucrative destination, tourists will pay big bucks to stay close to it.
About 63 percent of hotel and motel business in Florida comes from coastal areas, according to a recent economic impact analysis for Visit Florida, the state’s public-private tourism marketer.
STR, a company that tracks market data, found that visitors to Monroe, Collier, Nassau, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Walton counties this year paid an average of about or more than $200 per night for lodging.
Other statewide indicators highlight the significance of beach tourism to Florida.
Of the eight Florida counties that state leaders consider high-impact tourism areas — places where bed taxes raise at least $30 million a year — six of them are counties where beaches are a primary attraction: Duval, Volusia, Pinellas, Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade.
The other two — Orange and Osceola — have no coastline, but plenty of theme parks to make up for it.
“When we’re reaching out to visitors outside the area, we always lead with the beach,” said Kate Holcomb, spokeswoman for the Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau in Volusia County. “We definitely know our iconic beach is our main asset.”
Wide appeal, lots of activities
Saying you’re going to the beach offers only a broad description of how to spend the day.
A trip offers many possibilities, as simple or as elaborate as a visitor wants to make it.
Families with young children, teenagers and young adults, and senior citizens alike pack the shores of Clearwater Beach on an average weekend, their paths meandering around colored umbrellas, chairs and blankets.
If the kids aren’t in the water, they study the sands with toy pails and shovels in tow as they scout out spots to build a perfect sand castle.
Some adults, inspired by the childhood pastime, enjoy sand sculpting — an art that involves building more elaborate objects using the sand, not limited to, but including castles.
Depending on the beach, people also may find anglers casting rods and reels from fishing piers, players lofting volleyballs across an oceanfront net, standup paddle boarders gliding along the ocean, or parasailers soaring above the surf.
Add in surfers, snorkelers and scuba divers, and the beach becomes a moving spectacle of outdoor activity.
Grayton Beach, halfway between Destin and Panama City in Florida’s Panhandle, is where people can view the Underwater Museum of Art, America’s first underwater museum. It’s a sculpture garden accessible only by scuba diving.
Despite debuting only three months ago, Time Magazine recently named the underwater museum one of its top 100 places in the world to visit. Only one other Florida landmark made the list, Pandora — The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Caladesi Island, a Dr. Beach favorite near Clearwater, attracts many paddleboaters because a canoe or kayak is the only other way besides a ferry to reach the beach.
Among those paddlers last year was a group of 12 members of The Villages Canoe and Kayak Club. Jim Zoschenko, who led that trip and now serves as the club’s vice president, said the paddle trail across Hurricane Pass from Honeymoon Island leads through tunnels of mangroves.
The Village of Pennecamp resident said the club organizes at least one coastal paddle every year. He’s planning a return visit to Caladesi Island for the club next spring.
More members enjoyed the paddle to the beach than the beach itself, Zoschenko said.
“It was interesting that on that trip very few of our club members got in the water,” he said, “which was bizarre since the conditions were idyllic.”
A deep political divide runs through American politics. It’s a gap stretching from a place where talk of sea level rise ends and conversation about climate change begins.While sea level rise is a subject most lawmakers are willing to at least touch upon, the topic of climate change is either ignored or ridiculed in many corners of Tallahassee and Washington.
“Sea level rise is more palatable,” said Susan Glickman, the Florida director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “That’s due in part to its undeniability.”
Long-time Republican strategist Mac Stipanovich, who splits his time between Tallahassee and Destin, lays climate change “denialism” squarely at the feet of the party he represents.
“Denying climate change has become a part of the right-wing Republican dogma, just like Second Amendment absolutism and lower taxes in all cases,” Stipanovich said.
If climate change is real, and manmade, Stipanovich said, it becomes “a huge serious problem” to be dealt with, and attempting to address the issue, either through carbon taxes, zoning restrictions or other means “would be politically unpopular.”
That, the strategist concluded, makes addressing climate change a low percentage play for Republicans. Implementing policies that will only make a small group of environmentally concerned activists happy “would be politically unpopular.”
“It’s now enshrined in Republican dogma to be a climate denier,” Stipanovich said. “And if we’ve learned anything recently, you can’t twitch a bit when it comes to the new right wing Republican dogma or you’re excommunicated.”
Florida Gov. Rick Scott has proven the equal to any Washington D.C. denialist. Arguably the state’s most famous Republican, the governor turned U.S. Senate candidate made national news in 2015 when he was credibly accused of preventing state employees from even uttering the words “climate change.”
Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis, who are competing as Republicans to replace Scott in the governor’s mansion, appear poised to stay the conservative course where climate change and sea level rise are concerned. Neither Scott, Putnam nor DeSantis responded to several Gatehouse Media requests to complete a short sea level rise survey.
Putnam was the only Republican offered the survey who even responded to it with a statement.
“The threat of sea-levels rising presents a challenge to our beautiful beaches and booming tourism industry,” Putnam said. “This is an issue of focusing more efforts into investing in the infrastructure for Florida to be a strong, resilient state. We need to have beach re-nourishment, we need to support our estuaries, we need to invest in infrastructure that will harden our coastlines and allow us to move well fields inland.”
Asked to differentiate between sea level rise and climate change, a Putnam spokeswoman offered “we have no change to the statement as submitted.”
Long after the survey was sent, DeSantis, at a campaign stop in Englewood, did acknowledge that climate change “may be a factor” in creating an ongoing red tide crisis in the Gulf of Mexico in South Florida.
“I certainly wouldn’t rule out warmer waters having an impact; it seems reasonable,” DeSantis told Gatehouse Media’s Zac Anderson.
He termed climate change “more of a national and international issue” than one facing Floridians.
Tide gauge measurements at several points across Florida provide proof that not only are the world’s oceans rising, but that the pace with which they are doing so has accelerated since 2006. Studies consistently show the flooding is happening with more frequency.
This year flooding caused by high tides is anticipated to occur 60 percent more often in the United States than it did in 2000, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration study.
Glickman said sea levels can be expected to rise between six inches and 2.9 feet by 2050. Experts say that between 2005 and 2017, $7.4 billion has been lost in home value across 5 coastal states due to sea level rise, and Florida’s $5.4 billion in losses are the most of any state.
“No matter what we do now we’re looking at an impact,” she said during a recent conference call. “We need to be making long term decisions.”
Phil Levine, one of five Democrats running this year for governor, became known as an advocate for steeling Florida against sea level rise when he was mayor of Miami Beach. Levine even boasts of having campaigned for that job from a kayak, paddling down the middle of a busy street inundated by flooding for which sea level rise was to blame.
“While some people get swept into office, I kind of got floated into office,” Levine likes to say.
Levine and two fellow Democratic gubernatorial candidates, Andrew Gillum and Chris King, provided lengthy answers to the Gatehouse Media survey questions about sea level rise.
Gubernatorial candidates Gwen Graham and Jeff Greene did not participate. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson also declined to participate.
Levine used the survey to point out that hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent in Miami Beach to raise roads, install seawater pumps, improve building codes and erect sea walls to protect the city.
“The city has become a model for others around the world confronting climate change,” he said.
Gillum called for state-wide investments in infrastructure, the elimination of carbon emissions and coordination between local, regional and federal governments to find solutions to climate issues.
“I would direct all relevant state agencies to begin planning for sea level rise mitigation and adaptation, and to prevent further salt water intrusion,” he said. “And I would put scientists and science back in charge of our state’s climate change policies, not lobbyists.”
King said he has made environmental policy a cornerstone of his campaign.
“I have big, bold ideas for Florida on issues such as climate change, rising seas, Everglades’ restoration, clean water and air and building a clean energy economy,” he said in response to the Gatehouse Media survey.
Glickman and Rafe Pomerance, a former State Department official, contend that now is a crucial time to be talking about sea level rise and risking the leap to the scientifically linked proposition of climate change.
The Washington D.C. culture, though, has come to be exemplified by people like GOP Sen. James Inhofe, who, as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, once famously tossed a snowball onto the floor of the Senate and asked how snow could exist if the planet were warming.
Politics is hindering the country from moving forward on climate issues at a critical time in the nation’s history, Pomerance said.
“Congress is tied down fundamentally because of denialism,” he said. “This is holding us hostage to actually doing something about the issue.”
U.S. Rep Charlie Crist, a Democrat representing Florida’s 13th Congressional District, said unlike many others, Florida’s congressional delegation seems willing to see things differently when sea level rise and climate change are debated.
“Our delegation, they’re pretty moderate on the thing, for the most part. It’s hard to be a Floridian and not kinda get the environment thing,” Crist said.
Florida’s First Congressional District U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, of Fort Walton Beach, is as conservatively Republican as anyone in the House, but he’s also a member of the 84 member Climate Solutions Caucus.
“I don’t agree with some of the views some Democrats and even some Republicans have about the strategy to combat the problem, but I certainly can acknowledge that the earth is warming and humans make some contribution to that warming,” Gaetz said. “I see sea level rise as a consequence of climate change.”
The sea level rise/climate change discussion is “far too driven by peoples’ partisan lens,” Gaetz said.
“I think Republicans and Democrats need to be able to look at the same data and come to the same scientific conclusion, and then we can disagree about what the best strategy is to deal with the problem,” he said. “I’ve been very disappointed that too many in Washington aren’t even willing to establish a common set of baseline facts.”
The Climate Solutions Caucus, Gaetz said, is a “Noah’s Ark” caucus, that only admits a member of one political party alongside a member of the other political party. He said he’s encouraged to see the 84-member caucus continuing to grow.
The Caucus was actually founded by Florida House members Carlos Curbelo, a Republican and Ted Deutch, a Democrat. Fellow Floridian Bill Posey, also a Republican, recently became the newest of the state delegation to become a Caucus member. Republicans Gaetz, Brian Mast and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Democrats Crist and Stephanie Murphy are members.
The Caucus has established three primary short term goals.
Its first is to bring Democrats and Republicans together to acknowledge the basic science behind sea level rise and climate change, Gaetz said.
“It’s hard to deny the clearance on bridges in Florida is changing,” Gaetz said. “That seems to be indicative of sea level rise.”
The second Climate Solutions Caucus objective is to educate House members about bad climate-oriented legislation.
“There are times in bills when someone will try to ban a review or study about the impacts of climate change,” he said. “Usually the Caucus sticks together to maintain an analysis of climate change in the other work that the Congress does.”
The third objective, Gaetz said, is coming together as a non-partisan caucus to find “solutions we can agree on.”“I think the federal government is going to have a role in dealing with the consequences of climate change because many federal assets will be impacted by the affects of climate change, notably our military,” he said. “We cannot expect states to deal with the evolving territorial claims in the Arctic that are exacerbated in their complexity by climate change.”
The military and protecting the nation’s military assets from rising seas has continued to be a priority in Washington, even while other agencies, notably the Federal Department of Transportation and Environmental Protection Agency have slashed programs.
On Aug. 13, President Trump signed a defense authorization bill that includes a requirement that the military design and modify its buildings to better resist flooding, and calls for new military installations constructed in the 100-year flood plain be designed to withstand an additional two feet of flooding.
It also authorizes the U.S. Coast Guard to acquire six new ships capable of moving through sea ice, and calls upon the military to look into Chinese activity in the Arctic.
As with many other sea level rise or climate change-related issues, even the proposed military appropriations ran into resistance. Reps. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) and Ken Buck (R-Colo.) attempted to delete a requirement for a climate vulnerability study that had been added to the defense bill.
The amendment was defeated by 234-185, with the victory secured, at least in part, through the work of the Climate Solutions Caucus.
“It’s challenging, with the makeup of the body as it is, at present,” Crist said of moving climate-related legislation through Congress. “There’s an opportunity, though, this year, for things to change, at least in the House. If that occurs, maybe we can do a lot of good things.”
With primary elections fast approaching in this year’s governor’s race, and the U.S. Senate showdown between Nelson and Scott on the horizon in November, a coalition of environmental organizations on Aug. 15 released a study meant to advise competing candidates on the state’s gravest concerns.
Climate change is one of six issues specifically addressed in the document, called Trouble in Paradise.
“With approximately 75 percent of this state’s population in counties lining the coast, Florida must prepare for the increasingly severe weather and sea level rise caused by climate change,” the report states.
The study calls for Florida to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, invest in renewable energy, harden vulnerable infrastructure and steer development away from “areas vulnerable to the impact of severe weather,” Gatehouse Media’s Dale White reported.
It also calls for opposition to offshore drilling, the adoption of building codes the promotion of higher energy efficiency and expanded tax incentives for electric vehicles.
Pointing out the risks and economic impacts from flooding and higher storm surges, the report issues “a clarion call for leadership,” calling on the new governor to hire and appoint respected leaders who understand the myriad issues facing the state, the report said.
“Addressing community resilience and climate change in a proactive manner not only prepares this state for future challenges but also will result in more livable communities and long-term economic savings for taxpayers.”
GateHouse Media reporter Dinah Voyles Pulver contributed to this report.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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, 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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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 stands to lose more homes — and real estate value — to sea level rise damage than any other state in the nation this century, according to a new study.
By 2045, nearly 64,000 homes in Florida face flooding every other day. Half of those are in South Florida.
If you buy a house now, before your new mortgage is paid you might have to regularly do the rolled-up-pants, shoes-in-hand commute that has become an enduring image of sea rise.
These numbers, released in a report compiled by the Union of Concerned Scientists, used housing information from Zillow and a flood model from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that predicts 6 1/2 feet of sea rise by the end of the century.
Former studies of Zillow data showed Florida has hundreds of thousands of homes worth billions of dollars with the risk of being permanently drenched with six feet of sea rise.
This report, said one of its authors, Rachel Cleetus, talks about “a looming threat flying completely under the radar” — regular flooding.
“Well before homes go under water we’ll start to see chronic inundation that affects home value,” she said.
By the end of the century, Florida’s number of at-risk homes jump from 64,000 to a million. In 2100, the report said, about 1 in 10 homes in Florida will face flooding every other day. That puts the Sunshine State at the top of the list nationwide for homes at risk.
The report underlines the domino effect these repetitive floods could have on a community if nothing is done.
As these floods grow more frequent and more intense, they’ll start chipping away at the value of coastal homes, something initial research shows is happening in Miami-Dade and beyond. As these waterlogged homes lose value, their owners may decide that it’s easier to abandon them to foreclosure rather than pay a mortgage worth more than the house.
The authors of the report note that this kind of housing crisis would be more severe than any the U.S. has faced before. Unlike housing market crashes, where property values usually bounce back, these homes will be unusable (and unsellable) forever.
Federally backed mortgage buyer Freddie Mac wrote in a 2016 report that the resulting social and economic impacts of climate change are likely to be “greater in total than those experienced in the housing crisis and Great Recession.”
The dark possibility hinted at in these numbers also underlines the potential unsteady future of one of the main sources of revenue for the kinds of projects that save communities from the worst effects of flooding — a city’s tax base.
That’s especially visible in Miami Beach, one of South Florida’s most vulnerable communities. By 2030, Miami Beach homes paying $17 million in property taxes face regular flooding. By 2100, that jumps to more than $760 million.
Keeping a city dry as seas rise isn’t cheap, but some Miami communities are investing in solutions. Miami Beach raised stormwater fees to fund $500 million in street raising and pump installation projects. Miami’s “Forever Bond” was highlighted in the report as a positive story of a community taxing itself to pay for these projects.
The report made clear that the kind of action South Florida cities are taking right now is important. If other communities don’t start soon, it will be even harder for them to react to the threat in the future, said Joyce Coffee, president of Climate Resilient Consulting.
“If you don’t have these two things — a tax base and existing momentum — you’re on the losing side of history,” she said.
The report did suggest one solution that radically changes the number of homes at risk. If the world keeps fossil fuel emissions low, like the standards decided upon in the Paris Agreement, and ice melt is kept to a minimum, most sea rise damage could be averted. The authors said that would save 93 percent of Florida’s at-risk homes by the end of the century.
The report — and that 93 percent number — was compiled just before a new study from 80 Antarctic scientists showed that arctic ice melting has tripled in a decade. The work suggests the world has an even smaller window of time to act to stall the worst effects of climate change.
“We have to radically cut carbon emissions,” said Cleetus, author of the real estate risk study. “We have to prepare for the worst case scenario.”
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.”
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.
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.