Are we prepared for the sea level to rise?

Posted on April 10, 2017 by Linda Young

As I sit here in my nice dry home, listening to the rain pound on the metal roof above me, the site before my eyes makes me wonder if south Santa Rosa County is even close to being prepared for the rising oceans, or if we even have a plan? Or do we assume that these deluges of rain will always flow peacefully (mostly) to the nearest water body and disappear?
The rain flows down the street like a river, racing to Santa Rosa Sound which is only a short distance away.
It carries with it our yard chemicals, pet waste, oil and grease from cars, etc. But that is a topic for another day. Today I’d like to challenge you to tell me what the county plans to do when the ocean rises another two to four inches, which is predicted to happen not in 30 or 40 years, but within a few years after a huge ice shelf (size of Rhode Island) breaks off from its precarious perch in Antartica.
The liberation of the enormous piece of ice will not raise sea-levels, but it serves as a barrier for the glacier behind it which will then be free to move toward the ocean where it will melt. You have likely read about this or seen a National Geographic special on TV recently. It’s a fairly big deal in the scientific world and beyond.
If you are the betting type, there’s a place for your money with odds 25:1 for separation by October.
Our county, until the bulldozers and dump trucks arrived en masse, was largely a swamp, with gently sloping gradients as the land meets open water.
We have and continue to ditch and drain and fill these low-lying lands to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of people who now live, work, drive and play here. Our development has always been based on the assumption that the ocean and surrounding waters, including ground water would remain static.
We know for certain that is not the case.
Most cities and counties in Florida and other coastal states have been taking measures for years to accommodate the rising ocean. Southeast Florida is ground zero for the effects of the rising seas. There is even a five county compact for efficiency purposes. None of this work comes cheaply. Working with a neighboring county can save millions of dollars.
Some of that has happened here too. For instance, new inland water wells and a cooperative distribution system was set up years ago in order to provide fresh water for the tens of thousands of new residents and visitors.
That’s good because rising seas will push salt water further into our groundwater, making an already existing problem with salt-water intrusion even worse. However, not enough is known about how vulnerable our aquifers are. We do know that coastal aquifers that are already stressed from extraction demands will be even more vulnerable to sea level rise, especially if they have very low hydraulic gradients.
As the ocean pushes up and landward, the fresh water in the ground and on the surface above it, will also rise.
This will inevitably cause problems for the 45,000 plus septic tanks in our county, many of which are located within a few feet of a bay or the Sound.
The thousands of drainage ditches that mostly carry our polluted runoff to a nearby surface water, could at best sit stagnant and in many cases start flowing backwards.
Other coastal communities in Florida started retrofitting their stormwater systems with back flow preventers many years ago.
As the county contemplates how we should spend the new tax revenues being generated, perhaps this is an issue that is worthy of more thought and planning if not some actual retrofitting. It’s probably too much to hope for to think that our commissioners would stop permitting homes and businesses (by the hundreds) in low-lying areas and swamps. At least they should acknowledge that there will be an enormous cost for all of us down the road (sooner than we think) for these short-sighted approvals.
I encourage you to inform yourself about this issue. Pay attention to the ditches that drain our neighborhoods and roads and observe where they meet the water. Put 2 + 2 together and speak up now if you are concerned.