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IDEAS IN ACTION – Be Prepared: Water Quality and Climate Change in Florida

Guest Column By Josiah Neeley

It’s no secret that climate change poses acute risks and costs for Florida. With its extended coastline and geographic position, the state has always been vulnerable
to damage from hurricanes, flooding and sea level rise. While some of the consequences of climate change have been widely circulated in the media and politics, other serious risks have received comparatively less attention. In particular, the risks that rising sea levels and increased flooding pose to Florida’s drinking water supply and to its water infrastructure deserve greater consideration.

Sea levels along the Florida coast have already risen 8 inches since 1950, with the majority of the increase coming in recent decades. Furthermore, the Florida coastline is projected to experience an additional sea level rise of 10 to 12 inches by 2050.2

The future direct effects of this sea level rise are well known. Higher sea levels will impact low-lying coastal areas and make significant portions of the state more prone to flooding. This flood risk will also be exacerbated by changes in weather patterns. Because air can hold more moisture at hotter temperatures, climate change is expected to increase heavy rainfall events in some areas, which is expected to result in more flooding. Paradoxically, though, this extra water can end up reducing the amount of water that is available for human use.

There are two main risks to Florida’s water quality from climate change: salt water intrusion into groundwater supplies and the overloading of waste water systems.

But addressing the consequences of climate change also poses another danger: a risk to the public purse. While some costs from warming are unavoidable, Florida should take care that climate change does not become an excuse for bloated government spending programs or that tax dollars are not wasted on inefficient and needlessly costly responses. The aim of this policy brief is to lay out the likely costs of climate change to Florida’s water system and describe some principles that can help guide the state in adapting to these challenges without breaking the bank.

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