Despite some legislative action, FL’s response to rising seas and flash flooding will take some time

Sunny-day flooding caused by higher sea level along Brickell Avenue in downtown Miami. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Florida communities vulnerable to an estimated $30 billion in property damage from tidal flooding and flash flooding through 2030 will get unprecedented state help — but no time soon.

First come assessments of coastal and inland areas most at risk, planning what to do about it, prioritizing approved projects, and completing the physical work.

That process won’t even begin until Gov. Ron DeSantis signs off on funding in the proposed 2021-22 budget awaiting his approval. Then comes many months of study, according to the parameters for the new laws.

A pair of bills that DeSantis signed into law this month creates the Resilient Florida Grant Program, offering up to $100 million per year in grants for projects making them less vulnerable to flood damage. The grant recipients would pay half the costs of the projects, based on the language in the law.

The program will address increasingly dangerous flooding induced by climate change, with legislative staff estimating damage from tidal flooding alone could cost up to $30 billion over the next nine years.

The Tampa Bay Climate Science Advisory Panel estimates sea level in that region will rise by at least 1 foot and by up to 2.5 feet by 2050.

The Resilient Florida program will draw its funding from documentary-stamp tax revenue formerly reserved for Florida’s affordable housing trust fund, according to the law.

While the program is among the first in Florida to address the consequences of climate change, it does nothing to reduce the causes of climate change, according a consensus of environmentalists and scientific groups.

Proposals this year that would curb greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change got no traction in the Legislature.

Environmental advocates, scientists and others objected to funding the Resilient Florida Grant Program by raiding affordable-housing funds.

But in the end, they praised the program as a welcome, though long overdue, first step in the right direction.

It was a priority for Republican House Speaker Chris Sprowls to at least launch the effort to address the flooding.

Republican State Sen. Ben Albritton, said, “The future of our state is at risk of flooding and sea level rise. These threats have the potential to impact our residents, their homes, and their businesses. Left unaddressed, consequences would be far reaching.” Albritton, of south central Florida, made the comments earlier this month.

The Resilient Florida Grant Program, as prescribed in Senate bills 1954 and 2514, a trust fund in connection with the program, was sponsored by Republican Sen. Ray Rodrigues, a Lee County Republican.

The pair of bills assigns the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to develop a preliminary “statewide flooding and sea level rise resilience plan” for review by the governor and legislative leaders by Dec. 1, with annual updates addressing the state’s vulnerabilities and long-term outlooks.

DEP is to compile data by July 1 of next year and to complete a “comprehensive statewide flood vulnerability and sea level rise assessment” by July 1 of 2023.

A final version of the statewide resilience plan is due Dec. 1, 2023.

Examples of flooding resilience project may include pumping and drainage systems, devices to prevent saltwater intrusion into drinking water, elevating roads and structures, and extensive upgrades to water and sewer infrastructure susceptible to failure during flood events.