Climate change is posing many challenges to coastal communities. Sea level rise flooding is one of the more obvious symptoms of a warming planet. Other problems include longer, hotter heat waves and droughts. This time of year in South Florida, sargassum seaweed season begins and it can run sporadically right through the fall.
The smelly, scratchy seaweed washes ashore by the ton on hundreds of miles of beaches in South Florida, Mexico and throughout the Caribbean islands. The seaweed drives tourists away and could one day threaten local real estate markets when buyers get fed up.
Scientists say seaweed blooms in the Caribbean and off Brazil are getting worse every year due to global warming heating up the ocean and humans using too much fertilizer on farms and lawns. Runoff containing animal waste from large-scale farms is also a problem.
Coastal communities are employing a number of methods to combat the seaweed. Some plow it into the sand, others truck it away at great expense. Some communities are even exploring ways to harvest and process the seaweed before it ever reaches land.
The sargassum seaweed problem is expected to get worse until humans stop or at least cut back the use of greenhouse gas producing fossil fuels and get water pollution under control. Real estate buyers and owners in coastal communities need to keep an eye on the seaweed problem as it could one day impact the value of their properties.
When purchasing real estate in coastal areas, buyers need to ask whether a property of interest is has a septic system and how well its operating. This question is especially important now that sea level rise is causing thousands of septic systems to operate less efficiently and even fail — sometimes well inland from the ocean.
Most septic systems take household waste water and pipes it into a holding tank buried in the yard. There, the solids sink to the bottom and the liquids flow into a leaching field where microbes in the soil treat and filter out the remaining impurities. Ideally, after that, the treated, purer water eventually flows into groundwater, nearby rivers and streams or the ocean without a problem.
Sea level rise disrupts the process by forcing the water table to rise. This saturates the soils that are needed to treat and filter out the impurities. As a result, the septic system outflow can pollute yards and contaminate groundwater and water on the surface.
When this happens, property owners usually have two choices: 1) Invest in improvements — such as raising the septic system if that’s feasible and adding more dirt to the system — or 2) Abandoning the septic system and tying into a city wastewater treatment system.
To protect themselves from unexpected expenses, real estate buyers in coastal areas need to know if a property is served by a septic system or already tied into the municipal sewer system. If the answer is septic, they need to have a home inspector determine if the system is operating well and how long it will be effective as seas continue to rise.