Tampa leaders explore ways to combat sea level rise

While the most serious threat of sea level rise in coastal communities may be decades away, Tampa leaders are looking to take action now.  The city of Tampa is launching a study to find out which parts of the city are currently at risk of sea level rise impacts and how best to move forward.

The city received a $75,000 grant from the Florida Resilient Coastlines Program within the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to evaluate the impact on community and see how well current regulations will hold up against anticipated sea level rise.

City planners are working with the Florida Center for Community Design and Research at the University of South Florida, the Hillsborough County Planning Commission, and other agencies to complete the project. 

“Our goal is to first of all understand how much time do we have before the rise in sea level starts to impact our environment,” said Randy Goers, the director of city planning for Tampa.

A virtual meeting Tuesday gave local homeowners, developers and others a sense of the questions the study looks to answer.

“Would we need to increase heights for new buildings in the vulnerable areas? Would we need to create larger setbacks, are there different design standards that we can put in place?” asked Goers.

Goers said some of those vulnerable areas include Davis Islands and south of Kennedy Boulevard. He said some fixes could include adding green space or more drainage.

“Between now and 2050, 2060, the impacts are very minimal at least from the information we’re seeing,” said Goers. “After about 2060 and really 2080, we really start to see some pronounced areas.”

While it may take decades to see big effects, USF marine science professor Gary Mitchum said the climate is already changing in ways that add up.

“The main reason for worrying about sea level rise initially is, are we going to have flooding problems, and so right now we’re already seeing intermittent flooding problems,” said Mitchum.

Science experts said planners should look at all angles.

“It’s not enough to talk about sea level rise. It’s not enough to talk about stormwater. You have to talk about these things together. It’s an interlinked sort of problem,” said Mitchum.

While the water is slowly rising, experts said the effects of storm surge and flooding will cause more damage over time.

“It really gives us time to really take a look at the solutions,” said Goers.

City planners said the study will look at what other cities are doing and come up with recommendations for what the city can do to improve. 

There will be two more community meetings about the study over the next few months, and city planners hope to present their findings in May 2021.