A municipal park in Coral Gables, Florida is underwater at high tide. Image by QT Luong/terragelleria.com

Florida, America’s lowest-lying state, faces dire predictions thanks to the accelerated melting of the world’s ice sheets. But a new study says this future is coming sooner and faster than previously predicted, prompting a major survey by the US Army Corps of Engineers to shore up the state’s most vulnerable regions.

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The Army Corps of Engineers recently predicted that sea levels around Miami-Dade County—one of the southernmost counties—would rise an average of 15 inches by 2045. That was enough to spur some cities into action, but now it has been determined that a statewide plan needs to be fast-tracked to ensure that the state’s population is all equally protected, according to the Miami Herald.

What kind of changes are needed? A new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, a science-based advocacy organization, uses the Army Corps’ data to illustrate how those numbers would affect daily life only 30 short years into the future. It’s not just waves lapping a bit higher on the beach. It’s a completely terrifying scenario:

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With this increase, in just 30 years’ time, flood-prone locations in Miami-Dade County’s coastal communities would face roughly 380 high-tide flood events per year, and the extent of tidal floods would expand to affect new low-lying locations, including many low-income communities with limited resources for preparedness measures. The flood events that today snarl daily life in parts of the county only periodically would become widespread and, on average, a daily occurrence.

That’s not just building pumps and dredging canals so floodwaters can recede, which is largely what most cities are focusing on now. It means a comprehensive look at how to design for the coming floodwaters that will arrive daily and, in some cases, never recede.

These long-term and permanent flooding events will also render some parts of the state completely unusable. In Miami-Dade County, about one-fifth of the urban land area (that is, the land that’s not in Everglades National Park) is within one foot of sea level at high tide. I don’t have to tell you that this is also the most expensive real estate in the country. That’s about $6.4 billion in permanent potential losses. And that doesn’t even include systemic damage, like the contamination of drinking water and flooding of power plants.

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The survey by the Army Corps of Engineers to figure out where to focus future action will take about three years—it’s about 10,000 miles of coastline that needs to be assessed. Although some cities around the US are already planning their own responses to sea level rise, Florida’s project will be the first coordinated, large-scale infrastructural response. It won’t be long until other states will need to follow Florida’s lead.

[Union of Concerned Scientists via Miami Herald]