Properties Miles Inland Can Still Be Subject to Sea Level Rise-Driven Flooding

When we think of properties at risk of sea level rise flooding, we usually picture properties near beaches. Due to Florida’s unique coastal geology, some areas of the state bust that myth. They’re home to real estate that experiences sea level rise-related flooding miles inland.

How is this possible? Many communities on the Florida peninsula are built on porous limestone instead of granite bedrock. As the seas rise, the salt water is able to migrate inland through the limestone. When it meets fresh groundwater trying to flow to the sea, water pressure pushes the fresh groundwater up. As a result, when it rains, the land is too saturated to absorb the runoff, so it pools (floods) on the lowest land.

Miami-Dade County’s sea level rise task force noted in a 2016 report that this dynamic will make it more difficult for the existing network of drainage canals to protect inland properties from flooding.

Government officials in some locations are struggling with the problem. In some cases they’re able to improve the drainage system. In others, they’re not.

A solution they’re increasingly turning to is using federal funds to buyout properties that flood repeatedly. After the properties are purchased, they’ll turn the land into parks and fields that can store excess runoff. This approach, they say, is less expensive than repeatedly repairing properties that flood.

Miami-Dade County and Brevard County together are in the process of purchasing about two dozen inland properties that experience chronic flooding. Overall, Florida state officials have earmarked more than $44 million for buyouts across the state. As sea level continues to rise, this is likely just the beginning of the buyouts.

Not all homeowners are pleased with the buyout program. WLRN, a local public radio station that serves South Florida, canvassed at-risk inland neighborhoods and found homeowners had several concerns. In an article posted on the station’s website, the owners said they didn’t want their property values to decline because buyers were worried about the threat of flooding. They also said they worried that empty lots left after the houses were razed would give the wrong impression that every nearby property was at risk of flooding and further erode the value of their homes.

The hidden threat of sea level rise-driven flooding miles inland from the coast is a powerful reminder to real estate buyers to perform due diligence before submitting an offer on a property. They need to determine whether a property or neighborhood currently floods or if it will flood any time soon. The answer will impact the carrying costs, value and live-ability of the property that caught their eye.

Florida Republican Leaders Pledge in a Column to Address Sea Level Rise Now

Climate change denial is apparently a thing of the past for Florida’s Republican political leadership. State Representative Chris Sprowls, the incoming Speaker of the Florida House, and State Senator Wilton Simpson, incoming President of the Florida Senate, co-authored a column recently published in the Tampa Bay Times titled “Republican leaders say Florida must prepare for sea level rise.”

“With 1,350 miles of coastline, relatively low elevations, and communities built on top of former swampland, Florida remains particularly vulnerable to the risk of flooding caused by sea level rise,” Sprowls and Simpson wrote. “Over the last several years, we have seen that risk grow exponentially.”

This observation is a far cry from a time not too long ago when Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott gained national notoriety for discouraging any mention of climate change or sea level rise in government documents.

Sprowls and Simpson go on to note that high tide flooding events — commonly known as “sunny day” flooding — are becoming more common, and just a foot of projected sea level rise will put 65,000 homes and almost 122,000 Floridians at risk. Furthermore, they wrote, “Over 20 percent of homes, the largest single investment for families, have a greater than one-in-four chance of flooding over a 30-year mortgage.” The flooding, they said, “damages homes, disrupts businesses, and displaces families and employees, which leads to, among other significant impacts, increases in insurance premiums for all Floridians.”

To address the challenges posed by sea level rise, Sprowls and Simpson said the state legislature funded Resilient Coastlines Program has already awarded grants to 30 coastal communities to help them strengthen their resilience to floodwaters. They then went on to call for more flood mitigation projects, such as the enhancement of natural barriers, including dunes, mangroves and stormwater parks, and the construction of man-made barriers, including seawalls, berms, and improved stormwater systems.

Sprowls and Simpson also called for a stronger partnership with the federal government to develop long-range planning and funding for the effort to battle sea level rise. And they called on the federal government to give Florida a “greater proportion of existing funds allocated for flood prevention.”

Finally, they said they want to see the state “partner with cities and counties that are doing good work and incentivize those who are falling behind.”

Sprowls and Simpson closed their column by noting that Florida can’t afford to ignore climate change during the pandemic. “Although the COVID-19 pandemic can feel overwhelming and all consuming,” they wrote, “we cannot allow short-term anxieties to blind us to our long-term needs.”

In recent years, some Florida coastal governments have banded together to form regional compacts to tackle sea level rise flooding while the state dithered. Sprowls’ and Simpson’s column is a welcome signal that the state legislature intends to take a leadership role in helping local governments to better coordinate and fund their responses. To protect their investments, everyone who owns real estate in the Sunshine State needs to hold them to their word.

Global Consultant Recommends Steps to Protect Florida Real Estate Value from Sea Level Rise Flooding

McKinsey & Company, a global consulting firm, released a report this week that analyzes the risk sea level rise flooding poses to billions of dollars worth of Florida’s residential real estate and recommends steps that could be taken to mitigate the damage.

The report, titled “Will mortgages and markets stay afloat in Florida?”, starts by stating the simple fact that Florida’s unique location — in a hurricane-prone zone — and geology — extra low elevation with a porous limestone foundation that allows sea water to move freely — makes it very susceptible to sea level rise flooding. In fact, the authors cite a First Street Foundation study that concluded sea level rise will increase the number of days that many coastal areas experience tidal flooding each year from a few days today to 200 days a year by 2050. In addition, the average annual damages from storm surges will itself surge from $2 billion today to up to $4.5 billion by the middle of this century.

The report goes on to discuss how sea level rise is already depressing home values in areas that experience sea level rise flooding compared with those that don’t. “About 25,000 homes in Florida already experience flooding at frequencies of more than 50 times per year (almost once a week on average),” according to the report. “With rising sea levels, 40,000 coastal properties representing $15 billion of value could run this risk by 2030, and 100,000 properties worth $50 billion by 2050.”

The threat to the value of Florida’s residential real estate isn’t posed only by direct flooding, either. The report says as buyers are increasingly made aware of the flooding and the expenses involved in owning a property in a flood zone, prices will likely drop. Buyers could also balk at the higher insurance premiums and taxes that are sure to be levied as a result of flooding. A final point of pressure is the mortgage market. With the risk of flooding increasing every year, experts are wondering how long mortgage providers be willing to write 30-year-mortgages — or even 15 year mortgages, for that matter — for high risk properties when the owners might never pay back the loans.

The report authors offer a few potential solutions that could help mitigate the risk. Among their recommendations are that: 1. Real estate markets become more transparent about the risk of sea level rise flooding, so buyers don’t lose confidence in the market; 2. More money be spent on projects needed to upgrade the infrastructure — such as sea walls and storm sewers — needed to fend off the flooding ; and 3. Policy makers, engineers, investors and community organizations band together in groups to decide which properties to protect from sea level rise flooding and which to abandon.

In the end, the authors write that “While the state and communities face hard choices in the face of rising sea levels and worsening hazards, planning today can help manage the consequences and minimize the costs of climate change in the future.”

It’s clear from this report that the day of reckoning is here for buyers, sellers, owners and real estate agents in coastal communities. Understanding the roles played by individual property owners, governments, insurers and mortgage providers in the health of a real estate market impacted by sea level rise flooding is critical to protect your financial future.

Florida’s First Sea Level Rise Resiliency Officer Leaves Bombshell Report

Julia Nesheiwat, Florida’s first sea level rise resiliency officer, left her position after only a few months on the job, but a report she left behind in late 2019 should act as a call to action for the state.

According to the 36-page annual report she prepared for Governor Ron DeSantis that was acquired by the Tampa Bay Times, Nesheiwat evaluated how Florida was dealing with sea level rise and concluded that their response was too slow and disjointed. “Florida’s coastal communities and regions do not have a lot of time to waste,” she wrote. Her main concerns are that local communities are trying to cope with sea level rise on their own and, as a result, they are duplicating fact-gathering and planning.

“Florida needs a statewide strategy,” she wrote. “Communities are overwhelmed and need one place to turn to for guidance.” One of the facts fueling her concern cited in the report is the “$26 billion of residential property in Florida at risk of chronic flooding by 2045.”

Nesheiwat said the state should serve as the repository for information and guidelines so coastal communities wouldn’t have to duplicate efforts to come up with solutions to common problems posed by sea level rise flooding. She also made it clear that the state can’t rely on cities to address the enormous challenge alone. One of the examples she provided was the $75 million Monroe County needs to raise less than 3 miles of road in Sugarloaf Key.

With sea levels predicted to rise several feet by the end of the century, Florida’s residential and commercial real estate holders can’t afford to ignore Nesheiwat’s warning and advice.

Buyers Need to Consider Fresh Water Sources When Purchasing Real Estate in Communities at Risk from Sea Level Rise

As sea levels rise, many coastal communities are concerned that salty ocean water will contaminate water wells that provide fresh water to millions of residents. The loss of a fresh water source would be devastating to a city or town. Trying to find new sources, if it’s even possible, could be expensive. This issue should be of concern to real estate buyers in coastal communities.

The saltwater intrusion problem isn’t theoretical. For example, in 2007 researchers at Florida State University surveyed water planners to predict what would happen if seas rose 6-to-18 inches by 2057. Half the planners were concerned that their wells would be threatened by tidal salt water traveling up coastal rivers where water intakes and wells were located.

Kenneth Miller, an earth scientist at Rutgers University, told YaleEnvironment360 this week that the combination of heavy development on barrier islands with low elevations and broad exposure to ocean water puts New Jersey and other locations around the world at risk of saltwater intrusion.

South Florida residents could get a taste of the future this summer. The densely populated region is experiencing a deepening drought that’s forcing water managers to enforce watering restrictions and move water around in canals to prevent wildfires in the Everglades. As fresh water supplies are drawn down, there’s the risk that saltwater will try to fill the void, which could put wells at risk.

Whether salt water intrusion becomes a problem remains to be seen, but the situation certainly exposes a situation that many real estate buyers in coastal areas are not aware of that’s only going to get worse in the years to come. Clearly, knowing how secure a community’s supply of fresh water, or even a private well, is from saltwater intrusion is an important point to consider when buying property in areas near the sea.

Florida Senate Bill Calling for State Level Sea Level Rise Office and Task Force Advances in Tallahassee

With up to 3 feet of sea level rise predicted in the next 40 years and $300 billion worth of real estate at risk due to flooding by the end of this century, Florida continues to furiously work to address this offshoot of global warming.

The state went from essentially denying the existence of climate change and sea level rise during Gov. Rick Scott’s tenure to playing catchup when Gov. Ron DeSantis took office in early 2019. DeSantis was roundly applauded for appointing a Chief Resilience Officer to take on the problems posed by sea level rise flooding and climate change. Now the state senate is advancing a bill that would create a Statewide Office of Resiliency and Statewide Sea-Level Rise Task Force .

If the bill passes, the Office of Resiliency would create sea level rise projections that would be reported directly to the governor for use in policy-making. The task force would be comprised of nine members, including the Chief Resilience Officer and Department of Environmental Protection’s Chief Science Officer.

Sen. Tom Lee, the lead sponsor of the bill (SB7016), told FloridaPolitics.com, “Whoever picks up the ball and begins to run with it here will have to hit the pavement running … I acknowledge that.”

In the absence of federal and state leadership and response coordination, counties, local governments and private interests have formed regional commissions on their own to address sea level rise flooding, which is already threatening real estate, roads and infrastructure in many communities. Buyers, sellers, owners and real estate agents need to stay informed about their activities. Their ability to address sea level rise flooding will have a substantial impact on individual properties, neighborhoods, taxes, and flood insurance.

The Destructive Relationship Between Sea Level Rise and New Coastal Real Estate Development

Living in a coastal community that’s experiencing sea level rise flooding, I’m amazed at the hundreds of millions of dollars of new commercial and residential real estate being built in neighborhoods that are flooding today or that will soon be subject to floodwaters as the seas continue to rise.

When I ask my real estate agent friends what they think about the situation, they are always quick to remind me that Florida’s economy is heavily reliant on new building projects and the jobs, investment and tax dollars they bring for its very survival.

Many cities and towns along he Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico coastlines are equally addicted to new development to keep their economies rolling and their governments solvent. There is, however, clearly a downside to this relationship.

As sea levels continue to rise, those same coastal cities and towns are going to have to start to invest heavily in flood mitigation strategies, such as raising roads and water and sewer pipes, building or raising sea walls and installing pumps. In some cases, they may even have to buy-out homes and whole neighborhoods that flood repeatedly. When this day arrives — and it has already arrived in parts of the Florida Keys and other vulnerable locations — what seemed like a good idea today — allowing hundreds of millions of dollars in new development in areas vulnerable to sea level rise — will have enormous costs to taxpayers and property owners.

Taxpayers will have to pay the tab to protect the expensive new flood mitigation projects. And the higher taxes to pay for those projects, combined with the higher insurance premiums that go hand-in-hand with sea level rise flooding, could cause property values to plummet.

Linda Shi, an assistant professor in Cornell University’s department of city and regional planning, wrote an op-ed titled “The fiscal challenges of climate change” for the Boston Globe. In it, she explains the challenge posed by new coastal development in the age of rising seas. She studied the Massachusetts coastline in detail and discovered:”Statewide, 40 percent of local revenues come from property taxes; along the coast, 60 percent; and in some coastal suburbs, 70-80 percent. State expectations that local governments self-finance most of the services they provide inevitably incentivize continued development wherever possible, placing coastal sites and cities on a collision path with rising seas.”

Shi says the negative cycles could be reversed if cities and states included fiscal considerations into sea level rise flooding vulnerability assessments. She also said regional land-use planning agencies and non-governmental organizations could help by evaluating “how climate change affects local budgets, how fiscal vulnerability and adaptation choices impact the region and vice versa.” Their input would help communities to decide where to allow new real estate developments to minimize the eventual costs that arise due to sea level rise flooding.

The future costs of placing new developments in or near sea level rise flood zones is an important issue to consider today. Making informed decisions will protect subsequent generations from the high cost of protecting or decommissioning billions of dollars worth of real estate our generation knew was at-risk before ground-breaking shovels were turned.

Seizure of Real Estate by Eminent Domain Required in Corps of Engineers’ Draft Proposal for Dealing with Sea Level Rise in the Florida Keys

The Army Corps of Engineers recently presented a draft plan to the Monroe County Commission — which governs the Florida Keys — that would require the county to use eminent domain to force property owners in areas experiencing sea level rise flooding who don’t want to participate in a buyout program to sell their property.

The Corps’ $3 billion plan, intended to help the Keys to deal with sea level rise flooding, includes projects to elevate homes, critical businesses and buildings, like hospitals and fire houses. Where protecting real estate from floodwaters is prohibitively expensive or not technically possible, the Corps is proposing “retreat” — where the properties would be purchased and demolished.

Corps and county officials hope that most property owners would recognize the problem and voluntarily participate in a buyout program. To prevent the creation of neighborhoods with a checkerboard of demolished properties and inhabited homes, the Corps is proposing that the county be required to use eminent domain to force the remaining residents to sell their properties. The concern is that if residents remain in neighborhoods that flood, the government will still have to provide essential services and flood protection, which are the expenses they’re trying to avoid.

Susan Layton, a Corps chief of planning and policy, told the Miami Herald, “We don’t ever go straight to condemnation. We always start with negotiating and coordinating with homeowners and looking for willing sellers.”

Monroe County Officials are nervous about the prospect of eminent domain. County Mayor Heather Carruthers said she’s disturbed by that part of the Corps’ proposal. “I don’t know if we want to have that conversation now, if that’s a nonstarter for us,” she said.

The Corps will seek input from Keys officials and the public before the draft proposal is finalized in September 2021.

Because of their low elevation and exposure to the seawater on all sides, the Keys are at the front lines in the battle against sea level rise. How it adapts to sea level rise flooding will have an enormous impact on planning in the rest of the country. Buyers, sellers, owners and real estate agents in coastal areas should keep informed about what happens there.

Are Dredging and Beach Replenishment Effective Ways to Protect Real Estate Against Sea Level Rise?

In this video, a massive dredger scours sand and mud from the seafloor off Delray Beach, Florida, and pumps it onto the land where it’s used to replenish the eroded beach. The $8 million project is intended to rebuild the beach for tourism and to protect millions of dollars in real estate.

Every year, cities along the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico coastlines spend millions of dollars on beach nourishment projects. In my hometown, Delray Beach, Florida, a massive offshore dredger just started pumping slurry — sand and water — onto the seriously eroded beach to replenish it. The $8 million project is expected to last weeks. (You can see how it works by watching the video I created of the project.)

This type of dredging to replenish a beach has benefits and costs. In our case, the cost of beach replenishment is easily offset by the tourist dollars it attracts to the community. Without a beach, it’s unlikely people would come here and spend money to stay in hotels and dine and shop in the bustling downtown district. The beach also lures real estate buyers into purchasing single family homes, townhouses and condos.

Beyond the economic advantages, the replenished beach also acts as a barrier that protects valuable real estate from storm surges and erosion.

Despite the many positives, beach replenishment has some downsides. It can be harmful to marine animals and shore birds. If the causes of erosion aren’t (or can’t) be addressed, it will have to be repeated on a regular basis. And it can be expensive; and the costs are growing, especially in areas where sand is not in abundance and it has to be trucked in.

Sea level rise is sure to exacerbate the challenges faced by towns that rely on sand replenishment to maintain their beaches. Every inch of sea level rise increases the force of tides and wave action on beaches. The higher and more powerful storm surges that come with climate change and sea level rise will also be problematic.

For now, most cities and towns that rely on beach replenishment appear committed to the practice to protect their tourism trade and valuable real estate. Whether they will be able to foot the bill when the seas get higher and their beaches require more frequent nourishment projects is an X factor that all real estate buyers and owners in coastal areas prone to erosion need to consider.

FEMA’s Updated Flood Maps Will Impact Flood Insurance Premiums in South Florida

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which administers the National Flood Insurance Program, has been touring South Florida to inform real estate owners about how proposed flood maps based on the latest data will impact their flood insurance premiums.

Owners whose property is included in flood zones will pay higher premiums under the new maps that will take effect in 18 months to two years. Experts recommend that they purchase flood insurance now, before insurance premiums spike under the new designation. If they act now, they will not have to pay the substantially higher rates new policy buyers will have to pay as their existing policies will be grandfathered in when the zones change.

The new maps aren’t all bad news. With the new data removing some properties from flood zones, some lucky owners may actually see a reduction in flood insurance premiums.

People involved in real estate in coastal areas need to keep in mind that FEMA maps don’t consider future sea level rise or king tide flooding. Buyers especially need to perform due diligence to find out if a property experiences sea level rise flooding or may experience flooding in the period they expect to own it. Not knowing a property’s flooding status could result in a loss of property value and higher carrying costs, including maintenance, flood insurance, taxes and condo and homeowners association fees.

Local governments have officials who can help property owners who missed the FEMA meetings to decide what to do next.

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