“Resilience”: Putting a Calm Face on Crisis Management

Joey Flechas, Miami Herald, January 28th, 2017

With Miami Beach set to break ground this year on the most ambitious piece yet of its aggressive anti-flooding project, some homeowners worry that raising streets to keep them dry will cause flooding on their properties.

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Engineers will have to figure out how to smoothly join private property to the public right-of-way, which will be an average of two feet higher than it is now. In some cases, private property that drains excess water into the street will no longer do so, creating a conundrum that public works officials believe could be solved with a new form of public-private partnership.
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Three new pump stations will be placed at Fisher Park, at the end of 56th Street, and at 63rd Street and Alton Road. Sewer connections will be moved to the front of homes, new street lighting will be installed, and a bike lane will be added on 51st Street.
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An ambitious schedule has the work being completed by 2019 — before the state transportation department begins a separate improvement of Alton Road in 2020.

Jenny Staletovich, The Miami Herald, May 16th, 2016

Massive pumps that flush floodwater from Miami Beach into Biscayne Bay during seasonal king tides are dumping something else into the bay: human waste. A study that looked at tidal floodwater and water discharged from the island’s new pumps during the 2014 and 2015 king tides found live fecal bacteria well above state limits. In one case, levels were more than 600 times the limit. While some of the fecal matter was dog waste, scientists found higher levels of human waste that likely enter floodwaters from leaky old sewer lines or septic tanks.

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Briceno believes the city should consider injecting the wastewater beneath the Biscayne Aquifer into the boulder zone, a fix he estimates would cost about $7 million. But Wheaton, who said the cost would be closer to $10 million per well, said the cost is too high.
The island currently floods about six times a year during seasonal high tides that typically occur in the fall. But that flooding is expected to become more chronic. In April, the Union for Concerned Scientists revised its estimate for flooding on the beach with new sea rise projections from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to about 380 times a year by 2045.

Juan Fernando, The Miami Herald, Oct 04, 2016

Several streets in South Beach flooded during a storm the night of Oct. 3, 2016. This video shows flooding outside Pubbelly Restaurant at the corner of Purdy Avenue and 20th Street. The city said the severe flooding in Sunset Harbour resulted from a manufacturer’s defect with one pump and construction near another leaving only one pump working where there should have been six operating.

Joey Flechas, The Miami Herald, October 13th, 2016

This year’s seasonal king tides swelled again Thursday morning in South Florida, boosted by offshore currents from Hurricane Nicole. The king tide topped seawalls, rose through storm drains and crept up oceanfront parks at the tide’s peak, creating images that underscore concerns about the impacts of sea level rise on Florida’s coastal communities.

Joey Flechas, The Miami Herald, November 16th, 2016

Miami Beach has spent tens of millions raising streets in the low-lying Sunset Harbour neighborhood to prevent rising tides from flooding the area. That left some establishments a few feet down at a lower sidewalk level. Unknown to their owners, their businesses are also at a level not usually seen in South Florida: the basement.

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Because basements are below ground level, Allstate is saying federal flood coverage doesn’t apply to a restaurant that claims it had $15,000 worth of damage after recent torrential rains.
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The owner of Sardinia Enoteca Restaurant filed an insurance claim after water sloshed into his business when the city failed to turn on anti-flooding pumps during a heavy thunderstorm that swept through during high tide on the night of Oct. 3… The estimated $15,000 in damages in Sardinia — tables, chairs, equipment in the back — are not covered by Gallo’s National Flood Insurance Policy, according to a letter he received from Allstate.
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“It doesn’t make sense that we’re a basement just because the city raised the road,” Gallo said on Wednesday. Gallo is appealing the decision, but his problem raises the question of how the insurance industry will respond to sea level rise and the measures being taken to keep roads above water. Ten businesses lie below the street level on the block hugged by Purdy Avenue and 20th Street.
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An owner’s National Flood Insurance Policy is offered through private insurance companies, like Allstate. In a statement Tuesday, Allstate officials said all coverage decisions are made by the federal program. “Although policies are sold and serviced by private insurance companies like Allstate, all coverage and claim decisions are made by the National Flood Insurance Program based on their policy language,” said spokeswoman Carla P. Signoret. “As such, questions regarding flood insurance coverage and claims should be directed to the NFIP.”
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City officials said they were talking to FEMA and pushing back against the basement designation. City spokeswoman Tonya Daniels told the Miami Herald the administration has received assurances from FEMA that the restaurant does not count as a basement according to its definition, which states that a dwelling with a floor below ground level on all sides is considered a basement.

Laura Bliss, CityLab, November 13th, 2015

It’s time to mourn Miami, for as Stan and Paul Cox grimly explain in the New Republic, climate change is submerging the city we used to know. No U.S. metropolitan area is experiencing the effects of global warming more viscerally.

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Introduces the concept of “solastalgia,” which is brought on by dramatic shifts in the environment and feeling of powerlessness to stop them:
The word “solastalgia” (a new-ish turn of phrase in environmental philosophy) means nostalgia for a place you never left, but which is changing all around you in seemingly unstoppable ways. It is also a longing for simpler times. The changes Trotti is watching are “complex, intractable and severe.” For his own solastalgia, he writes, “I self-medicate with a high dose of recycling.” Solastalgia is brought on by experiencing dramatic shifts in the environment, and the feeling of powerlessness to stop them.
(Note: “Solastalgia” is interestingly reminiscent of Ackbar Abbas’ “Culture of Disappearance,” whereby a culture is formulated and recognized only on the basis of its own impending disappearance. Prior to the imminence of its loss, whether by economic or environmental factors, the culture ceased to be recognized or deemed significant. It’s a phenomenon that is based in equal parts nostalgia, historiography, and protest.)

Joey Flechas, The Miami Herald, October 23rd, 2015

While Miami Beach leads the region in building resiliency to rising tides, the effort to fast-track the massive project also has wound up doing an end-run around the normal process for issuing government contracts. The Miami Beach Commission has waived the public process of seeking low bids in two projects, approving expensive changes under emergency authority. Some critics wonder if the rush to get things done has cost taxpayers.

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The work in Sunset Harbour started as a $2 million, publicly-bid project approved in May 2013… The contract went to Lanzo Construction to replace an existing pump station at 20th Street and West Avenue, add more injection wells and build a new gravity storm sewer system.
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In September 2014, the public works department asked Mayor Philip Levine and the commission to approve a $4 million expansion without a public bid, adding the current pump system and raised roads. Officials said Sunset Harbour’s flood-prone streets were in a state of emergency and the city needed to keep the contractor working on-site.
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In September of this year, when there was another proposed extension to keep the contractor working in the area to continue raising roads and replacing an old water main, commissioners pushed for more negotiations to reduce the price. On Sept. 30, commissioners approved the extension, without a bid, for $6.4 million.
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An $11.25 million contract with Bergeron Land Development was approved in February 2014 to build new storm water pump stations… That contract has since grown to about $31 million because of unexpected problems.

Joey Flechas, The Miami Herald, August 6th, 2015

Clouds of murky water near a stormwater pump at the west edge of South Beach has again alarmed residents and raised questions of the improved drainage system’s impact on Biscayne Bay.

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The Beach is pressing on with a three- to five-year plan to install around 70 pumps throughout the island at a cost of $300 to $500 million. Amid the push to keep the Beach dry from rising tides, environmental concerns abound.
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In January, results from a study by scientists from Florida International University showed the thousands of gallons of drained water may be contributing to a spike in pollutants that could feed toxic algae blooms. City officials said the filtration system installed with the pumps meets environmental regulation standards, and they will continue to monitor the impact.
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Henry O. Briceño, the hydrologist at Florida International University who oversaw the study… said on Thursday that while the city’s filtering system catches larger objects and thicker sediments, finer particles can still make it through to cloud the water… cloudier water can hinder the sunlight needed by marine life deeper in the water, and some of those finer particles likely carry unwanted bacteria.
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[City Manager Jimmy Morales] said the darker water is caused by pressure and gas bubbles causing sediment to rise and form temporary clouds, which could look like something worse from a distance. “Turbidity barriers” are supposed to be installed soon to limit the size of the sediment plume.
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He said the sediment rises while water is pumped out, and the bay water clears up once the sediment is given a chance to settle. The only debris they found in the water were small leaves and a few small plastic bags or shreds of bags that made it through the filtering system.
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On Thursday, Miami Beach workers cleaned the filtering system at the 10th Street pump station and circulated pictures of heaps of plastic bottles, soda cans and other garbage that is captured by the cleaning chamber. This chamber captures garbage collected by the storm water drainage system and gets cleaned every three months.

Jenny Staletovich, The Miami Herald, January 30th, 2015

Last fall as Miami Beach triumphantly drained its streets, beating back seasonal King Tide flooding that has come to symbolize the perils of climate change, scientists got a different view of what the future may hold: one of the world’s most celebrated beaches surrounded by water too foul for swimming.

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The Beach is pressing on with a three- to five-year plan to install around 70 pumps throughout the island at a cost of $300 to $500 million. Amid the push to keep the Beach dry from rising tides, environmental concerns abound.
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New pumps installed to keep the city dry flooded Biscayne Bay with a soup of phosphorus, nitrogen and other pollutants that can feed toxic algae blooms, according to a study overseen by Florida International University geologist Henry O. Briceno. In parts of the bay, the mass flushing caused nutrients to increase six-fold. If pumping were to become a regular practice, nutrients that are “like caviar for algae” could fuel nasty-smelling blooms that kill marine life and turn water a bright pea green.
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Briceno predicts Miami Beach and other communities that want to drain increasing amounts of water will need to treat it to eliminate hazardous elements, or use deep injection wells where they can store it until limestone filters out pollutants. Mowry believes the solution could be a combination of keeping streets and pipes clean and more efficient pumping.

Joey Flechas and Jenny Staletovich, The Miami Herald, October 25th, 2014

The sea started boiling up into the street. A major Miami Beach road was under water. Tourists sloshed to hotels through saltwater up to their shins, pants rolled up, suitcases in one hand, shoes in the other. But one corner of Miami Beach stayed perfectly dry. In Sunset Harbour, which has historically flooded during seasonal high tides, the water was held at bay last month by a radically re-engineered streetscape that will be put to the test again this week with another king tide.

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The design — featuring a street and sidewalk perched on an upper tier, 2 ½ feet above the front doors of roadside businesses, and backed by a hulking nearby pump house — represents what one city engineer called “the street of tomorrow.”
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In many ways, Miami Beach is writing just that — the first engineering manual for adapting South Florida’s urban landscape to rising seas.
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Rebuilding South Florida to survive rising seas will come at considerable cost. Each Beach pumps runs $2 to $3 million, a relative pittance. Overhauling major flood canal gates and pumps along the Miami-Dade coast could be hundreds of times more costly. In the long term looms the daunting, big-dollars prospect of raising homes, roads, buildings. It will all add up to billions.
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Even Mayor Philip Levine, the biggest cheerleader of efforts to “rise above” sea level rise, would acknowledge that pumps alone represent a temporary fix – a 30- to 40-year buffer. If future projections hold true, more roads will have to be raised — along with buildings — as the rising sea pushes up through the porous limestone sponge underlying much of South Florida. First floors might have to be vacated, rusting infrastructure replaced, codes and building elevations dramatically beefed up.
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Despite the mounting science and the flooding scenes playing out in South Florida, Tallahassee has largely ignored resiliency planning and projects, particularly the costs. Just this year, Gov. Rick Scott — who has largely dodged the climate change issue throughout his tenure — vetoed $750,000 for the Beach’s pump program. The reason? The project “does not provide a clear return on investment.”
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On the Beach, problems were big enough that political leaders were willing to risk raising rates on residents to pay for it. Beach commissioners raised stormwater rates by 84 percent last year to secure $90 million worth of bonds to start work in the fall of 2014, when pumps quickly went in along the southwestern shore of the barrier island. The cost to the typical resident rose from $9.06 to $16.67 per month.
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“Developers have said to me, ‘We will not self regulate. We need leadership from our government,” said Miami-Dade County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, who was elected last year and is teaming up with Commissioner Rebeca Sosa to bridge the political divide and move forward on a suite of resolutions Miami-Dade County passed earlier this year.

Joey Flechas, The Miami Herald, October 6th, 2014

The tides are rising this week in South Beach, and everyone’s watching to see whether newly installed pumps will control the flooding. During this week’s king tide, city officials hope to avoid the familiar scenes of people wading in ankle-deep waters and cars splashing down Alton Road and West Avenue.

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The projected high tides will be around 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. and are supposed to reach about 3½ feet both days. Areas on the west side of South Beach start to flood at around 3 feet.
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Public works director Eric Carpenter said that with the pump projects, the city is updating infrastructure that is at least 50 years old. City leaders hope they will provide relief for 30 to 40 years, but all agree the long-term strategy will have to include revamping the building code to construct buildings higher off the ground, making roads higher and constructing a taller seawall. Mayor Philip Levine said the conversation would continue for years on how exactly to prepare the Beach for rising waters. “We know the questions,” he said. “But don’t have all the answers.”
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In Miami Beach, the highest elevations run along the sandy beaches, and the lowest lands lie to the west, in areas that used to be mangroves. In a way, a natural event like the king tide simply sends this dense, built-out section of land back to the state Mother Nature intended it to be.
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The water then rises through the storm drains and, if there is enough of it, floods the streets. Before the current upgrades, faulty caps on the pipes where the water comes out led to either backed up drains behind jammed caps or water rushing back up into the drains because the caps were gone.
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It might not sound logical to pump water back into the bay that is causing the flooding, but Mowry explained that the seepage is slower than the pumps, each of which can move about 14,000 gallons per minute. The water removed from the streets is not enough to raise the level of the bay any more than the king tide already has. A key factor of the new pump system is the valve that prevents water from rushing back in through the release point.
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During this week’s king tide, the city estimates it will be able to pump about 50,000 gallons a minute, or the equivalent of three to four swimming pools. It could still take time to drain a flooded street, particularly if rainwater adds to the problem, but officials hope to see less standing water for a shorter amount of time this year.

Politics. Climate Politics. Water Politics. Federal, State, and Local Politics.

Philip Levine, TIME, December 12th, 2016

Throughout Donald Trump’s campaign for President, he repeatedly promised to build a wall along our Southern border to stymie the flow of illegal immigration (and coax Mexico into paying for it). But as a businessman and a real estate developer, perhaps President-elect Trump should consider devoting his attention to a far more rational and productive project: protecting Florida’s fragile coastline from the threats of climate change and sea level rise.

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In Miami Beach, we never debate climate change. Instead, we find solutions to combat the challenges we face related to sea level rise.
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As I have said many times, the ocean is not Republican or Democrat. While we bicker over the science and solutions, it will only continue to rise. If he is willing to look for it, the President-elect can find common ground here and step in as a leader on a major issue, for our state, our nation and our planet.

Jenny Staletovich, Miami Herald, December 12th, 2016

Everglades restoration scored a major victory over the weekend when Congress approved a long-awaited waterworks bill. The $10 billion bill comes at the end of a year filled with water woes that wilted Florida Bay and left Treasure Coast estuaries coated in slimy green algae, and includes authorization for the Central Everglades Planning Project. The $1.9 billion project, which splits the tab between the state and federal government, is intended to speed up work critical to reviving the flow of water south to keep marshes healthy and help fend off saltwater intrusion threatening South Florida’s water supplies.

David Helvarg, The Los Angeles Times, December 2nd, 2016

When Floridians narrowly voted for Donald Trump on Nov. 8, they might as well have elected to drown themselves. Rising seas and accelerating storms are inundating this low-lying state, but a majority of its citizens still chose a presidential candidate who calls climate change a hoax.

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Most of the nation is … like Florida: State governments and voters resist the cure because they refuse to believe they have the disease, or that it exists.
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Environmentalists used to say, “Think globally, act locally.” If the fact that CO2 emissions are increasing temperatures isn’t acknowledged, Florida will also become a model for how we cope with our new reality: denying climate change globally, but acting — frantically, expensively and with too little impact — locally.