Rising tides, rising costs: Sea level increase will impact Bay Area

- The Tampa Bay area is known for its beautiful beaches and amazing sunsets, but it's also notorious for summertime floods.

The city of Tampa is on low ground and an antiquated drainage system can turn intersections into lakes.

City Councilman Harry Cohen hopes a recently approved storm water tax hike will fix it. 

"Which will raise $250 million over the next 30 years and that will pay for projects throughout the city,” he explained.

The projects will focus on rebuilding the storm water system through underground vaults, stepped up maintenance, and replacement of pipes.

“My hope is, within the next two to three years, people will start to see the benefits of these projects,” he continued.

But with rising sea levels, is it enough? For urban areas like Tampa, the hope is yes. But for our beaches and coastal locations, it's a whole different ballgame.

“Relative to most coastal areas of the United States, this area is significantly lower,” explained Cheryl Hapke, the director of the St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center.

For her, the issue of rising water for the coast is a looming peril.

“You’re going to start to lose your beaches and eventually your dunes. They're going to erode faster during storms."

And without beaches and dunes to buffer the waves?

"You’ll start to have more flooding of the inland houses."

Florida's coastline averages 4 feet above sea level. The latest study from the international scientific body on climate change predicts a 2-foot sea level rise by 2050. Then a 4- to 7-foot rise by 2100.

“It’s not ‘if’ Florida is going to be impacted by sea level rise; it's how much."

NOAA developed animation to show potential impacts. For example, St. Pete's Al Lang Stadium floods at 5 feet, Tampa’s Riverwalk submerges at 4 feet.  Places like Holmes Beach in Anna Maria, or Island Park in Sarasota are underwater at 2 feet. 

So where do we go from here?

“We can choose to be more sustainable and use cleaner energy,” Hapke suggested.  “That certainly could make a difference in the long run.”

Besides more green living, the solution may involve curbing development.

“We can raise structures or we can move away,” Hapke added.  “But we're just going to have to deal with the impact -- that we're going to have water in our cities.”

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