DUNEDIN, Fla - Wastewater system updates, flood walls and storm drain improvements aren’t exactly the flashiest way just spend more than $700 million, but without these investments experts warn Florida is in for some not so sunny days ahead.
That's why Governor Ron DeSantis says he's committing $404 million in state funding, most of which ($326 million) will also be matched by local governments, to fund projects across Florida that work to combat the effects of sea level rise and flooding, including in Pinellas County.
"Today’s record investment, as well as the projects included in the statewide plan for future funding, will strengthen our infrastructure to withstand the impacts of flooding and storm surge," Governor DeSantis said at a Honeymoon Island press conference Tuesday. "You’re looking at well over $2 billion of projects that will be done between the state and local match."
It's part of the governor's new Resilient Florida Grant Program, which will help fund more nearly 200 infrastructure and flood mitigation projects over the next three years.
"Florida’s really Ground Zero for sea level rise and many other environmental challenges associated with tropical storms and hurricanes," said USF Marine Science Dean Dr. Tom Frazer. "We are dealing regularly now with high tide flooding events and because of the anticipated rise in sea level, as well as variations in the tidal cycles, we can expect a lot more of those high tide flooding events in the future, especially over the next decade. That’s really why I think we need to prepare now."
Frazer and a team of marine scientists and oceanographers published a study last summer that found St. Petersburg, Florida could be less than a decade away from seeing flood activity increase sevenfold, from an average of 10 major flooding events a year to 70 annual floods by 2033.
Five Tampa Bay counties have been awarded funding for 11 of the 113 newly announced projects.
"They’re largely focused on green infrastructure, living shore lines, improved infrastructure, and capacity for our waste water treatment facilities," explained Frazer. "Upgrades to wastewater infrastructure, whether they’re septic systems or other systems, are key to make sure that water is channeled appropriately to the wastewater facilities and doesn’t get into the environment during flooding events"
High ticket Bay Area projects include a $25 million investment from the state for mobile home park wastewater collection systems improvements in Pinellas, and a $15 million Polk project (of which $7.05 million would come from the state) for historic wetland restoration to minimize flood risk in the Peace Creek Canal Basin.
A nationwide study by researchers at the University of Bristol, the University of Pennsylvania and NYU found western Florida among the regions projected to be hardest-hit by the costs of sea level rise and flooding over the next 30 years. The study showed a 160% increase in flood risk and related costs in Pasco County, a 123% increase in Pinellas, a 116% jump in Citrus and a spike of 75% in Hillsborough.
"We’ve got a tremendous amount of infrastructure placed along the coast and in all of the counties, particularly in the broader Tampa Bay region, so that certainly plays a role in why we’re more vulnerable," explained Frazer. "It’s a wonderful environment but it’s changing right so you have to be able to adapt to that and I think we're in a good position to do that. If we can do it successfully we will be a role model not only for other places in Florida but certainly in the United States and even around the world."