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By Bruce Ritchie
Legislators from South Florida counties are being urged to help their communities combat sea level rise by supporting funding for alternative water supplies, beach and Everglades restoration and renewable energy.
Fifteen of the 50 members of the legislative delegations for Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe counties attended a workshop Tuesday night dealing with climate change. The 12 Democrats and three Republicans were told that sea levels have risen by 9 inches in the past century and could rise another 9 to 24 inches in the next 50 years, causing flooding, beach erosion and damage to homes, roads and other property.
“We’ve to get past that conversation, ‘Is this really happening?'” said Roman Gastesi, Monroe County administrator. “Yes, it is happening. Now what do we do about it? How do we adapt to it?”
Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Monroe counties in 2010 created the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact and they issued a report in October on responding to climate change.
Water utilities in Southeast Florida have been moving their water wells inland to retreat from encroaching salt water intrusion in aquifers caused by sea level rise.
Gastesi recommended that the Legislature provide funding for alternative water supply projects as provided by SB 444 in 2005. He said new bill language will be offered to make eligible for funding water supply projects that are needed to adapt to sea level rise.
Gastesi also recommended that the Legislature provide $30 million or more for beach restoration projects to offset erosion. Gov. Rick Scott, who has said he’s not convinced that climate change is occurring, has requested $25 million for the program in his 2012-13 budget request.
A slide that Gastesi showed during his presentation included recommendations for funding Everglades restoration, Florida Forever conservation land-buying and establishing a renewable energy requirement for utilities and incentives for renewable and alternative energy programs.
Several legislators asked the representatives of the counties what they should do.
“We as three delegations have to convince the rest of the state that this is a potential economic disaster for the state of Florida if we don’t do something about this,” said Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth.
Gastesi said after the meeting that the Legislature needs to recognize that sea level rise is a reality, and provide funding for water supply projects.
Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach and the workshop chairman, said now the responsibility is for the legislators to develop a list of potential actions. He said the turnout, which he estimated at about 20 percent of the delegation from the four counties, was good.
“This is just a first step,” he said. “There is going to have to be a recognition by legislative leaders, by the governor and by the agencies involved of the various roles” in dealing with the issue.