On a stretch of Sunset Beach where the overfull Huntington Harbour is higher than Pacific Coast Highway, a pump is ready to keep the road from flooding. In Long Beach, seawater has overtaken Bayshore Beach. The water laps against Balboa Island’s recently elevated seawall and it crashes onto the boulders protecting beachfront homes in Capistrano Beach.

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The king tide as seen from 2nd Street and Bayshore Drive where the water over took nearly all of the beach including the base of a lifeguard stand in Long Beach on Friday, January 10, 2020. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)

So far, the ocean reaches these points just a few times a year, when the alignment of the sun and the full moon conspire to create the high water levels known as king tides. One such time is now: King tides will peak in the mornings from Friday, Jan 10, through Sunday, Jan. 12.

But the king tide phenomenon also offers a glimpse of the future, a look at what will be normal tide levels at some point this century. And it underscores the urgency that some government a

gencies and environmentalists say is lacking as we prepare for oceans taking over developed coastline.

“It’s a time when people can observe with their own eyes what a higher sea level may look like — what beaches are under water, what roads are flooded,” said Annie Kohut Frankel of the California Coastal Commission. “It’s an opportunity to think about climate change, and talk about it with your community.”

Rising sea levels threaten California beaches. Here’s how we can help protect them

 

I recently returned from Kiribati, the low-lying Pacific Island nation that is projected to be the first country lost to sea-level rise. The I-Kiribati are people who smile easily, laugh often and dance before dinner. It’s difficult to comprehend sea-level rise displacing this or any culture, although our California beach culture faces a similar threat.

I visited Kiribati as part of a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) program to train local governments about assessing threats to marine systems. As a scientist focused on climate impacts in California, I assumed climate change would be at the forefront of Kiribatians’ minds given the imminent threat of rising sea levels.

Surprisingly, I found that although people clearly understood that climate change is happening, many believed they had other, more pressing problems. Our 25 workshop trainees ranked pollution and biological resources as the biggest threats, with climate change a distant third. After living there a few days, I understood. Garbage is omnipresent on land and in the sea, and sanitation is lacking. And although Kiribatians are threatened by climate change, the daily impacts are not yet as bad as other more palpable threats.

Half the stuff in Fort Lauderdale’s sewage system isn’t waste. Sea rise makes leaks worse

 

Fort Lauderdale is soaked in waste after six sewage spills from decaying pipes dumped more than 126 million gallons of raw sewage directly into nearby rivers and canals over the last few weeks. That’s about the volume of 191 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

But something important has been lost in the stinking mess: Most of it isn’t actually poop or other flushed stuff. More than half of the volume flowing through the city’s crumbling sewage infrastructure is actually groundwater seeping in through the many, many cracks and holes in the aging system.

And it’s another problem for coastal communities that climate change is making worse: sea rise is soaking metal pipes in salty, corrosive water, and flooding from more frequent high tides pushes up through the ground, collecting that leaked sewage as it floods streets and parks.

Other Florida cities and counties will likely face similar problems and massive expenses in the future or already have. Miami-Dade, for example, has been struggling for decades to deal with waste that has periodically bubbled into streets or waterways, most recently in the Oleta River late last year. The county has been under federal orders since 2014 to clean up its act and fix a failing sewage treatment system as part of a $1.6 billion Consent Decree with state and federal agencies.

In Fort Lauderdale, December’s bursts have left residents and managers in a frenzy. Mayor Dean Trantalis vowed to come up with a “Marshall Plan” to fix the city’s plumbing. Angry residents are calling for a moratorium on new development. Commissioners agreed to spend more than $65 million in emergency funds to plug the leaks and get the pipes back underground. And the city is bracing for potentially huge fines from the state.

“It’s the single most devastating environmental catastrophe in the history of Broward County,” said Paul Chettle, a Fort Lauderdale activist.

A ‘SWISS CHEESE’ WASTEWATER SYSTEM

The city’s ancient network of pipes is crumbling. A 2017 consultant report to the city laid out over 800 pages of bad news, and all but called the city’s wastewater system Swiss cheese. Most of the pipes are at the end of their lifespan, the consultants found, sea rise is speeding up the timeline and leaks from surrounding and increasingly corrosive groundwater make up more than half the flow.

Fixing it all would take $1.4 billion the city doesn’t have. And a state order means Fort Lauderdale must fix most of its issues in the next decade. And that’s the bill for one coastal city.

There’s been a flurry of finger-pointing in Fort Lauderdale. Some residents blame new development. Mayor Trantalis, at a city commission meeting on Tuesday evening, blamed former administrations for kicking the can down the road.

He called the recent sewage spills “a result of neglect over almost a decade of ignoring a problem that should have been addressed long before today.”

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Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis, center, listens to city commissioners discuss solutions for the recent sewage spills at City Hall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Tuesday, January 7, 2020. Daniel A. Varela DVARELA@MIAMIHERALD.COM

One thing nearly everyone agrees: sea level rise is making the problem worse.

Fort Lauderdale, like the rest of South Florida, is planning on more than two feet of sea rise by 2060. That’s enough to flood 15 pump stations and 220 manholes, according to a city report.

As seas rise, the ground around these pipes is soggy more often than not. That wet, salty dirt eats at the pipes, and the jostling up-and-down motion of the tides loosens their joints.

Once that saltwater gets in, it brings dirt and sand, which saw away at the bottom of the pipes like sandpaper, creating weak spots. City Manager Chris Lagerbloom said when most of the broken pipes are pulled from the ground, workers find uneven wear — the bottom of the pipe is thinner than the top.

“It tells us that these pipes have been in an environment where the bottoms have always been wet…. And the tops have usually been dry, and the bottom has worn away over time,” he said.

Fort Lauderdale hired a team to test the soil around the city and find out just how salty and wet the dirt is around the pipes, and whether the wetter spots have more broken-down pipes.

A PAUSE ON DEVELOPMENT?

The newest volley of burst pipes has pushed upset residents to renew an old cry: halt new development until the city can get the sewage and water pipes functional again. They say the crop of new buildings in downtown and elsewhere is stressing the aging system and pushing Fort Lauderdale close to its water pumping limits.

Kevin Cochrane, a Rio Vista resident, started an online petition calling on the city to stop approving large developments until it has fixed the crumbling infrastructure, hiked impact fees and stopped dumping sewage into waterways. He is also organizing a protest among upset residents for this weekend. As of press time, his petition had nearly 1,800 signatures.

“There’s been a lot of rumblings about a moratorium, but no one’s had the political courage to demand it. There wasn’t the urgency,” he said. “Now you can see it and smell it.”

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A temporary above-ground sewage pipe inside the Rio Vista neighborhood in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Tuesday, January 7, 2020. Daniel A. Varela DVARELA@MIAMIHERALD.COM

The last time someone called for a moratorium, after a disastrous sewage spill in 2016, they gathered a little over a thousand signatures.

“As we face the future sea level rise adding to the impacts of already aging infrastructure, we need a plan with concrete costs and identifiable sources of funding,” said Mary Fertig, who led the petition drive as head of Lauderdale Tomorrow. “We need to just step up and have the conversation.”

At the same meeting, representatives from the city’s Downtown Development Agency argued against any slowdown in the city’s development. They noted that the impact fees developers pay help fund some of the sewage projects.

“It is not about new development, it is about age of pipes and condition. So let’s address the problems with the appropriate solutions,” said DDA Head Jenni Morejon. “We do not need to stop.”

Lagerbloom said there wasn’t much political support for a moratorium, despite pressure from residents.

A HEFTY PRICE TAG

To foot the immediate bill, commissioners agreed Tuesday night to use cash from a few spots, including a $200 million water and sewer bond. About $60 million will be used to replace the main trunk of the city’s system, 7.5 miles of sewer pipe connecting a golf course to a wastewater treatment center. The city’s newly hired contractors said it would take between 16 to 18 months.

When asked if the city might have to take out another $200 million bond before the current one runs out in five years, Lagerbloom told commissioners he didn’t know but said “extreme circumstances sometimes have to be met with extreme measures.”

Broward Students Meet For Youth Climate Summit On Sea-Level Rise

  5 HOURS AGO
Originally published on January 10, 2020 5:55 pm

About 1,000 middle and high school students and teachers from 27 schools came together for the second annual Broward Youth Climate Summit in Fort Lauderdale. 

Students had the chance to participate in a Broward County version of ‘Game of Floods,’ an interactive scenario. They also heard panels on how sea level rise will impact politics, art, economics, law and how they can advocate for policy change. The day-long event took place at the Museum of Discovery and Science.

“I just want to come here and have fun, hopefully inspire other people, and get inspired from other people,” Khushi Desai said, a freshman at Deerfield Beach High School.

Unlike most of the students there, she didn’t come with her school. Instead, Khushi got permission to come on her own, and she brought her mom with her. She held up a ‘Time Person of the Year’ photo frame and put her face inside for a picture. Youth climate activist, Greta Thunberg, now 17, was named Time Person of the Year and Khushi says she’s inspired by her. 

“I really want to help save the environment ’cause in turn that will save us and humanity,” Desai said.  

Teachers are also seeing the effect Thunberg’s advocacy and celebrity has had on students in their classrooms. 

“For my generation our heroes were, like, athletes,”  said Calara Mabour, who teaches biology, marine science and humanities at Northeast High School in Oakland Park. “But for them, their heroes are changemakers… I really am inspired by them.”

 

Mabour said she hopes to add Thunberg’s book, “No One Is Too Small To Make A Difference,” to her class reading list.

Read More: Meet The Weston High School Student Teaching Climate Assemblies After The Youth Climate Strike

At the summit, students also heard from the Secretary of Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection, Noah Valenstein:

“Thirty years from now, plenty of projections show two feet of sea-level rise in Florida,” Valenstein told them. “That is going to make a profound difference. You matter. And you will be able to bring solutions to challenges that we have struggled with today.”

After the summit’s conclusion students were given a homework assignment: to calculate sea level rise projections for their school over time  and illustrate it with a community art installation called Rising Waters.

Students who attended were also asked to implement a Climate Action Plan at their schools to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22, 2020.

“I really want them to be able to see themselves as a part of the change that could come,” Mabour said.