Palm Beach property owners learned how to harden their homes against the slow sortie of the Intracoastal Waterway on Friday while West Palm Beach officials touted their latest plan to fight climate change-buoyed flooding.
The events – one a community workshop, the other a publicized announcement – were both aimed at adapting to sea level rise, and were examples of discussions happening from Boca Raton to Jupiter about homeowner action and municipal responsibility when it comes to a warming world.
With Saturday's new moon, which the National Weather Service said could tug king tides into low-lying coastal areas, West Palm Beach’s debut of an $800,000 project to install 31 one-way drainage valves along Flagler Drive was prescient.
'Worst is yet to come': Disastrous future ahead for millions worldwide due to climate change, report warns
The new valves, which allow water to drain from streets but prevent brackish Lake Worth Lagoon water from bubbling back up during extreme high tides, build on a test plan that initially installed four valves between Greenwood Road and Southern Boulevard.
A $105,000 grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is helping pay for the project, which will begin in the spring of next year and is expected to finish by the end of 2023.
City officials said they’ve learned from the pilot project how to more effectively install the valves, and that the mechanisms periodically need to be scraped clean of barnacles. But they also tried to temper expectations, saying the drains may not work when heavy rains and king tides combine.
“These tidal valves are an important stopgap measure over the next decade or two to mitigate the flooding on Flagler,” said West Palm Beach Assistant City Administrator Armando Fana. “Eventually we’ll have to look at raising the seawall, but that is a long term and very expensive effort.”
High tides are magnified during new and full moons as a sun and lunar alignment sandwiches the Earth, creating a greater gravitational pull.
Come fall, seasonal elements contribute to high tide flooding as summer-warmed water expands and the Gulf Stream current slows, piling more water along Florida's coast.
November’s full moon coincided with a record 2.99 inches of rain at Palm Beach International Airport on Nov. 19. Flagler Drive flooded and cars stalled. The November new moon also caused flooding as it coincided with an area low pressure kicking up surf at the coast.
“For sure you are trapped in your house and you don’t want to ruin your car driving through saltwater,” said Quintin George, who bought a home in February on the Intracoastal north of downtown. “Not being able to leave is annoying.”
More king tide flooding on Flagler Drive just south of downtown West Palm Beach. No Rolls Royce this time. Most of us here drive normal cars. pic.twitter.com/sF8fmlOeaP
— Kimberly Miller (@KMillerWeather) November 8, 2021
George Fechter, chairman of Resilient Enterprise Solutions (RES), which co-hosted Friday’s workshop in the Town of Palm Beach, said homeowners and municipalities need to react now to climate change in order to prevent bigger disasters.
RES was founded in 2019 with an initial focus of helping increase resiliency to rising seas in South Florida and Norfolk, Va. as a one-stop shop for contacts and advice.
A 2019 report by the Southeast Florida Regional Compact on Climate Change stresses that South Florida's sea-level rise could happen faster than what is happening globally.
Under NOAA's "intermediate low" and "intermediate high" projections, sea levels would rise 0.7 feet or 1.4 feet, respectively, by 2040 as compared with year 2000 levels.
By 2070, that could increase to a sea level rise of 1.3 feet and 3.3 feet.
“Once COVID is in the dustbin of history, coastal flooding is the existential threat that will be with us for the rest of our lives, our children’s lives and our grandchildren’s lives,” said Fechter, noting that U.S. cities should look to the Netherlands for resilience models. “We don’t have to invent the solutions; we just have to apply them.”
About 62% of Palm Beach’s homes are in a FEMA special flood hazard area, meaning a mortgagor would require flood insurance. A beachside ridge between 12 and 17 feet high keeps some homes along the Atlantic Ocean out of the flood hazard area.
Palm Beach new construction must build to one foot above base flood elevation. Homes undergoing renovations worth more than 50% of the property must also be raised.
But a recent study by the Woods Hole Group recommended homes on Palm Beach be raised 3 feet. West Palm Beach requires homes be built feet above base flood elevation.
About 10 homes on Palm Beach have either been raised or are in the process, said town plan examiner Andres Quintana.
“We try to convince people when they do renovations to raise the home,” Quintana said. “Some people are surprised about the rules, and some people try to go around them.”
If raising a home is out of the question, hardening a home is a possibility with flood gates or specially designed door thresholds. The Lake Park-based company Savannah Trims, which attended the Palm Beach event, makes removable flood barriers that create a dry moat around businesses, watertight doors and special glass that repels water.
Because a watertight door can cost as much as $10,000, the company is developing a more affordable $300 to $400 kit for homes that includes a special threshold to keep water out.
“This way you can enhance what you have,” said Savannah Trims engineer Gene Kennedy.
Resilient Enterprise Solutions is co-hosting another flood workshop on on Dec. 13 at the Cox Science Center and Aquarium in West Palm Beach (formerly the South Florida Science Center) from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Kimberly Miller is a veteran journalist for The Palm Beach Post, part of the USA Today Network of Florida. She covers weather, climate and the environment and has a certificate in Weather Forecasting from Penn State. Contact Kim at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Climate change forces move forward in West Palm Beach, Palm Beach