From Planning to Action

The phenomenon of climate change is particularly challenging from a number of policy perspectives. Absent a “silver bullet” technology solution to remove carbon from the atmosphere, any solution requires international cooperation on a scale not previously achieved for an issue so broad and pervasive. Unlike many other types of pollution issues, localities cannot independently put their own house in order and thereby solve their problem independent of action taken by the rest of the world, though localities will be first line players in any set of solutions. Timing is a critical factor. The most serious and direct consequences of climate change may be decades off, meaning that today’s decision makers must communicate effectively regarding short term costs and long term benefits, often a heavy lift for elected officials. These policy deliberations continue to occur in a context of climate science challenge or denial, a degree of uncertainty as to the extent and timing of climate change consequences, and growing demands among developing nations for access to the benefits of cheap energy that fueled the prosperity of the developed nations.Miami Blog Photo

Being among the “canaries in the coal mine” (perhaps an unfortunate analogy for this particular problem) is not a situation to which many knowingly aspire. Southeast Florida is one of several places where vulnerability to climate change consequences, particularly sea level rise, is being experienced in the present. Miami-Dade County has been actively engaged in climate change issues since 1990. Now Florida’s four southeastern coastal counties from Palm Beach to Key West have created a Four County Climate Change Compact to establish consistent regional planning assumptions and to bring to bear as many local, regional, state, federal, and private resources as possible to plan for and act on infrastructure and other investment needs to address long term climate change vulnerabilities.   Miami has been ranked number one in the world in terms of the potential value of property losses vulnerable to sea level rise and storm surge flooding. As a result, the Miami-Dade County Commission has mandated that all County infrastructure projects consider the consequences of sea level rise for 50 years or the expected life of the asset in question, whichever is greater.

In Miami Beach, a booming barrier island fronting the Atlantic Ocean, clear weather street flooding, caused by rising seas backing up through the drainage system at extreme tides, has become a mainstream political issue. The City has committed to a $460 million program to install 60 pump stations, retrofit drainage lines, and elevate streets by up to 2 feet. This is an extraordinary and significant example of the leading edge of policy actions that need to be developed sooner rather than later in vulnerable communities around the globe.

The International Water and Climate Forum is an opportunity to share the lessons-to-be-learned as diverse communities move from planning to action to define vulnerability and invest in the infrastructure, technology, and behavioral changes that utilities and communities need to embrace adaptively for a resilient and sustainable future. Critical elements of this effort include effective applied research initiatives and communications strategies that produce broad public awareness of the issues and the need to act on these issues responsibly from a personal level, a corporate level, and at all levels of government. The Forum seeks to include all of these considerations in practical and insightful ways.

Douglas Yoder is a Deputy Director of the Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department, the largest utility in Florida and one of the 10 largest in the United States.  His address at the Forum will provide insights and examples of how Miami-Dade is working to adapt to the impacts of climate change, specifically storm water drainage and sea level rise, with an emphasis on the communication component of the utility’s work.