TREASURE ISLAND – The Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council has embarked on an effort to form a network to help communities plan long term for the ramifications of sea level rise.
Maya Burke, senior environmental planner of TBRPC, told members of the Barrier Islands Government Council April 29 that a two-year grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has enabled the planning council to form the One Bay Resilient Communities Working Group, which is designed to help coastal communities plan ahead.
Burke said the goal is to bring together city planners, developers, real estate professionals, elected officials, coastal managers and concerned citizens to develop a cohesive plan for the ultimate rise of sea level.
“It’s not going to happen tomorrow,” said Burke. “You have time to plan right now for infrastructure that’s going to have a life cycle that will go into that time period.”
NOAA projections, using the St. Petersburg tide flows, show a rise of 1/10th inch per year through 2100, or 8.5 inches over the next 85 years.
“We have local, reliable evidence that sea level rise is already here and I’m telling you with a degree of confidence that it will continue to 2100 and beyond,” said Burke. “But I’m also telling you it’s not too late and it’s too insurmountable, and your decisions today can deliver those social, economic built and natural systems that would change and improve quality of life for your residents.”
Burke said preparing for sea level rise differs greatly from other potential disasters.
“When we do our resilience planning for hurricanes, it’s just a short period of time,” she said. “Sea level rise is much different. It keeps going and it requires a different kind of approach. It will require greater capital outlays to address.”
OneBay’s goal is to provide local governments with practical strategies to withstand the effects of sea level rise.
“We’re not trying to do anything grand or sweeping,” Burke said. “We’re not trying to fundamentally change the way of life. We just want to give you a practical and pragmatic tool kit for you all to use – strategic investments that can make your communities safer and improve the quality of life for your residents.”
Since 1946, the sea level rise at the St. Petersburg tide station has increased 6 1/2 inches over a 69-year period. But other areas of the country haven’t fared as well.
Louisiana, for example, is seeing the fastest sea level rise and the Mid-Atlantic states are experiencing increases higher than the Tampa Bay area.
In this region, sea level rise is on par with the global average, Burke said.
“Local sea level change is important for you to understand when it comes to planning purposes in your communities,” she said. “It’s important to understand what your local sea level rise conditions are and be informed so that the messages you craft and share with your constituents are sensitive to your local conditions and not some narrative going on somewhere else.”
But while there is no immediate threat of sea level increase, the World Bank ranks the Tampa Bay area as the seventh-most vulnerable area in the world due to the number of structures and infrastructure so close to the coast.
According to NOAA, when sea level rise does take place along the Pinellas beaches, it won’t be on the Gulf side. It will happen first in the Intracoastal Waterway.
“So these are things to think about when you’re looking at capital improvement projects or where your residents are,” said Burke. “Just be understanding of the dynamics you’ll be faced with.”
OneBay has already partnered with two county governments on studies involving the impact of sea level rise, as well as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on a study of criminal infrastructure vs. climate hazards.
“They put together a technical support document for climate hazards specific to Tampa Bay,” said Burke. “They put out a document in January and conducted a seminar in February that was attended by 120.”
The three key findings were:
• Any projected changes in rainfall falls within the natural vulnerability. More data is necessary to understand if rainfall is something we need to plan for in the future.
• The area will experience hotter temperatures, especially in the summer months.
• The area will see more coastal flooding through sea level rise.