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Governments Plan for Development of Land Vulnerable to Rising Sea Level: South Florida

Cela, M., J. Hulsey, and J.G. Titus. 2010. South Florida. In James G. Titus, Daniel L. Trescott, and Daniel E. Hudgens (editors). The Likelihood of Shore Protection along the Atlantic Coast of the United States. Volume 2: New England and the Southeast. Report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Washington, D.C.

The summary is on this page. You can also download a printer quality version of this South Florida sea level rise planning study (pdf).

Summary of results from underlying study by South Florida Regional Planning Council (pdf 1.6 MB, 60 pp)

South Florida has both one of the nation's largest populations vulnerable to flooding from hurricanes and sea level rise, and the second largest area of low-lying conservation lands. This region has approximately 3000 square miles of land below the USGS 10-ft contour, which is typically about 2-1/2 meters above the level of high tide during new and full moons. About ¾ of that vulnerable land is wetlands, mostly the Everglades. But the region also has 870 square miles of low dry land. Of those lands, more than 75% is densely populated and almost certain to be protected. Yet this region also has the state's largest concentration of lands where governmental policies restrict coastal development and thereby make shore protection unlikely. As the summary table for Florida shows, Broward and Miam-Dade counties alone account for about 60% of the land along the state's Atlantic Coast where shore protection is almost certain.

Broward County is entirely build up in the land below 2.5 meters, except for portions of the Everglades that are off-limits to development. As sea level rises, virtually all of the county is almost certain to be protected, except for a few parks that make up less than 4% of the low dry land. Miami-Dade is even more densely populated in the northeastern portion of the county. West and southwest of Miami, however, there are substantial agricultural lands and phosphate mines. Many of those lands may be returned to nature, but it is also possible that some will be developed or that the current use will continue. As a result, 60% of the county is almost certain to be protected-but another 20% is likely to be protected, 10% unlikely, and 10% is already conservation land.

Most of the land in Monroe County is wetlands within Everglades National Park or Big Cypress National Preserve. All but a few dozen people, however, live on one of the Florida Keys. In sharp contrast to other counties along the Atlantic Coast, Monroe County has very strict policies limiting development of private land. The primary motivation for the restrictions is the difficulty of evacuating the Florida Keys for a hurricane warning. As a result, the County has a point system similar to transferable development rights in which very little development can take place in most of the undeveloped areas. The need to preserve turtle nesting areas and habitat for the endangered key deer also have led the county to discourage development in some areas. As a result, only 65 percent of the Keys are likely or almost certain to be protected.

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Governments Plan for Development of Most Land Vulnerable to Rising Sea (PDF, 7 pp., 1.3 MB) was originally published in Environmental Research Letters , Issue 3, Volume 4 (2009).

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