Seven Ways the City of Fort Lauderdale Is Preparing for Sea-Level Rise

For city officials, Hurricane Sandy was was like Fort Lauderdale’s real life The Day After Tomorrow. In October 2012, the Category 2 storm whipped up 15-foot high waves that pummeled Fort Lauderdale’s coast. The tide breached the sea wall and flowed freely across A1A. The road was not passable, entire neighborhoods were cut off, and homes were flooded. Sand and sea water were found two blocks inland. A few weeks later, after more hard rains, a four-block section of A1A collapsed, pulling a stretch of the sidewalk, road, and parking spaces down with it.

It was a rude — and costly — awakening: a glimpse of Fort Lauderdale's future if local infrastructure does not adapt to coastal flooding and more severe weather. But according to Dr. Nancy Gassman, an assistant public works director with a doctorate in coastal ecosystems, this incident ushered in a new era for the city and a chance to brace for climate change.  The state spent $8.3 million to temporarily keep A1A from disintegrating further, and city officials allocated $11.8 million to rebuild the promenade. This time, though, A1A was built sturdier and higher than before, 

“Historically, we would build at grade. After Sandy, we had the opportunity to rebuild higher,” Gassman says. “It’s now the city’s intent to plan to be prepared for all the impacts of climate change and recover in a short time for future generations.”

In the next 50 years, sea levels are expected to rise at least two feet. There will be more flood days and severe storms. With a governor who has banned the term "climate change" altogether, it makes sense to be skeptical that the state government will save us from rising seas. But Gassman insists that the city of Fort Lauderdale, at least, has become more resilient as officials have sketched out short-term and long-term goals to keep Fort Lauderdale afloat.

Here are seven ways you probably didn’t know that Fort Lauderdale is already preparing for sea level rise:

7. Vacuum trucks keep roads drivable: 
There's a 24-hour customer service center (954-828-8000) for residents to report flooding. When excess water has pooled, the city sends out a vacuum truck that looks like a street sweeper and is just as loud. It sucks up excess water to keep roads drivable and prevent entire neighborhoods from being cut off after a storm.

6. Seawall ordinance protects waterfront properties: 
Last month, the City of Fort Lauderdale introduced an ordinance that would force waterfront property owners to raise their sea walls at least eight inches from the previous maximum heigh. Although some scientists were wary of the maximum height allowance, Gassman explains that if the sea walls were higher than the base flood elevation, water would run off toward the properties and potentially flood homes. The idea is to have storm water run off away from homes. 

5. Tidal valves keep storm water from rising out of drain pipes: 
Tidal valves are one-way rubber contraptions installed in the city's drains to keep the system functioning like it should. When it rains, water drains into the sewers that eventually drain into the sea. During heavy rains and flooding, though, the sea water would rise up and seep backwards toward the city. Sea water would gush out of the drains and only flood streets more. Now, these tidal (or one-way) valves are installed all across the city's drains and prevent sea water from pouring backward onto the street. The city spends thousands to check and clean these storm drains to remove any blockages. 

4. Burying seaweed prevents beach erosion:
Every morning cleaning crews used to sweep debris, like trash but also seaweed and other organic debris, off the beach. But the city has since decided to stop raking detritus away because the seaweed and organic debris actually prevents beach erosion and fights against sea level rise. They have found that burying the seaweed in the sand stabilizes the beach from the wave impacts. 

3. Pump stations spit stormwater back into the sea: 
There are currently two pump stations installed in Fort Lauderdale. Like Miami Beach's pumping systems, these also collect, filter, and spit out excess water back into the sea. They work during heavy rains and during the King Tide, when a few times a year the tide is especially high. 

2. More porous infrastructures help drain excess water: 
Bioswales are natural rain gardens. They look like regular medians but are planted in a way to absorb excess rain water. This keeps water off the streets and sidewalks. The city is also using "permeable paving." Traditional pavement cannot absorb water, which leaves huge puddles after it rains. Permeable paving uses a material that allows water to soak inside it instead of forcing the water off the roads and into sewers. In Fort Lauderdale, this look like brick pavement and is already installed near Riverwalk and in other places in the city.

1. Tiger dams create temporary barriers from encroaching waterways

A tiger dam is like a much more efficient sandbag. They're made of long orange tubes that can quickly fill with water during an emergency flood, then create a temporary water-filled sea wall that can protect  waterfront properties that don't have sea walls, like homes on canals and lakes. 

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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