Report: $13.4 billion needed to protect Tampa Bay from rising seas and frequent flooding

A new report released from the Tampa Bay Partnership Tuesday found the region would need to spend nearly $13.4 billion to protect against rising seas and frequent flooding by 2070. And acting sooner rather than later could save money down the line. 

The analysis found that for every dollar spent, the area would save at least $2.27 for investing in upgrades and protections against climate change. Changing sea levels are already costing Tampa Bay residents.

"Here in Tampa, what we're seeing is rising insurance premiums under FEMA. A lot of people in Tampa have to have flood insurance because of their mortgage," said Whit Remer, the sustainability and resilience officer for the city of Tampa.

It was presented at Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council’s Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Leadership Summit in St. Pete. The report detailed the impact of rising seas, extreme heat, flooding, and more environmental changes, what’s needed to fix the problems in infrastructure, and how much it would cost.

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"I think before the report came out, we may be thought that that might be 50 years from now, 25 years from now. Now we realize that's closer to 10. But the good news is, you know, there are mitigation things that we can do. There's adaptations that we can make today to help us not be in a catastrophic place in 10 years," said Bemetra Simmons, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership. "So, for every dollar, we spend on mitigation today, there's a $2.27 economic positive benefit to doing that. So it's not just the quality of life issue, it's an economic issue."

Those changes include raising and replacing the seawall, floodproofing, and lifting buildings higher off the ground. The estimated price tag is $13.385 million from 2021 to 2070 in Citrus, Hernando, Pasco, Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Manatee counties.

"So the economic case for resiliency, I think, was made very clear today. There is no doubt in my mind that our elected officials in the region believe in that and will and will certainly understand the dollar value," said Sean Sullivan, the executive director at the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council. "But they also have to prioritize how these dollars are spent. We are in a unique time, not only in Tampa Bay, but really throughout this country, that there is more money from the federal and state government available for resiliency than there really has been in our lifetimes."

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If the region does not act, the study found that by 2070 counties could lose $16.9 billion in property values, and $238 million more in sales, tourism, and property taxes annually. Rising sea levels and storms could cost the region $2.9 billion in property value losses and $34 million in sales, tourism, and property taxes annually by 2045.

"Disasters are expensive, but paying for the ability to stop them is a lot cheaper," said Remer.

City and county leaders said the report shows how to act to prevent further impacts, and they said the region can take advantage of funds through the state of Florida and through the federal government.

"There's the $1.2 trillion federal investment in infrastructure. A lot of those programs have resilience requirements built into them. So if a state or municipal government wants to get some of that new infrastructure money that Washington, D.C. just passed, you've got to show how you're going to spend that money in a resilient way. And this report shows how those resilient investments pay for themselves," said Remer.