Broward News

Expert in Sea-Level Rise Says South Broward Is at Greater Risk Than Downtown Miami

Scientists concerned about global warming and sea-level rise often describe Miami as ground zero — the next Atlantis, even. Magazines such as Rolling Stone and the New Yorker have speculated that huge chunks of the city could go underwater and that people would flee in a mass exodus. (The symptoms are already happening, they say.) But what about Broward County? Florida’s second most populous city seems dramatically overshadowed, even though it’s perched just 20 miles north of downtown Miami.

North Broward resident and geoscientist Dr. Keren Bolter says residents here should be concerned. Published in 2014, Bolter’s doctoral dissertation examined Broward County’s risk of sea-level rise. Her findings were disturbing: Residents living in huge swaths of low-lying land in South Broward underestimated their vulnerability.

“Downtown Miami on the coast is really high up in comparison to Broward, where the whole southern part of the county is low,” says Bolter, who now works as science director at Coastal Risk Consulting, a firm that helps businesses and homeowners adapt to sea-level rise. “In terms of extent, spatially, there’s a lot larger area of low-lying land around the Fort Lauderdale area.”

Hallandale Beach, Dania Beach, Hollywood, and Fort Lauderdale are most at risk, Bolter says. Unlike Miami, the majority of property in that area consists of lower-income single-family homes, not high-rises and luxury condos.

Five miles of canals sprawling throughout Fort Lauderdale only increases chances of flooding, contamination, and other water issues. “In Fort Lauderdale, you have this whole other vulnerability,” Bolter points out.

The effects of sea-level rise are already being felt in Broward, which has experienced inland flooding, storm surges, and extreme tides. In Hallandale Beach, wells had to be moved farther inland because of saltwater intrusion, where ocean water had seeped into the fresh groundwater. In fact, half of Broward’s wells are at risk of saltwater intrusion. One study estimates it could cost Broward as much as $300 million to find alternate sources of water.

During the astronomic high tide in October 2013, downtown Fort Lauderdale and the Las Olas Isles were flooded. The following month, the erosion continued and 2,000 feet of A1A collapsed. The beach, seawall, and sidewalk were washed into the ocean, costing the city $21 million in repairs.

In bracing for sea-level rise, Broward County officials face hurdles similar to those in Miami: The limestone foundation would undermine the creation of a wall or levy. The real-estate market could falter if banks at some point stop funding 30-year property mortgages.

But Bolter says Broward’s officials are taking climate change seriously and doing what they can to prepare. So far, she says, they were among the first administrators to address sea-level rise in a land-use plan, to identify the 16 most vulnerable areas, and even enrolled thousands of employees for climate training. “It’s very impressive,” she says.

Bolter’s biggest concern is awareness among Broward’s southern residents. According to her dissertation, those most at risk in the low-lying, southern parts of the county underestimated their vulnerability to storm surge and property damage, whereas those in the higher, northern parts of the county overestimated their risk. “One person thought they lived 100 feet above sea level,” she sighs.

She says Broward should prioritize funding so that infrastructure is protected and that the low-lying areas of south Broward are taken care of first. 

Here are maps illustrating the highest-risk areas:

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jess Swanson is a staff writer at New Times. Born and raised in Miami, she graduated from the University of Miami’s School of Communication and wrote briefly for the student newspaper until realizing her true calling: pissing off fraternity brothers by reporting about their parties on her crime blog. Especially gifted in jumping rope and solving Rubik’s cubes, she also holds the title for longest stint as an unpaid intern in New Times history. She left the Magic City for New York to earn her master’s degree from Columbia University School of Journalism, where she spent a year profiling circumcised men who were trying to regrow their foreskins for a story that ultimately won the John Horgan Award for Critical Science Journalism. Terrified by pizza rats and arctic temperatures, she quickly returned to her natural habitat.
Contact: Jess Swanson