40 Flooded Mobile homes due to King Tides

Green Keys Sustainability Action Plan

Monroe County is ground zero for experiencing the impacts of global climate change and sea-level rise. Along the chain of islands that is barely above the sea, many streets experience flooding times throughout the year especially from extreme fall and spring high tides, commonly referred to as king tides. 

In 2016, the County set priorities, a work plan, and implementation strategies, which can be found at its Green Keys website. The Green Keys Sustainability Action Plan identifies the County’s vulnerabilities to sea-level rise and climate change and provides a comprehensive 5-year roadmap on how best to proactively deal with these issues that likely will worsen in the future. 

Habitat for wildlife that once was high and dry continues to have seawater encroach on the lands. Rising seas have begun to affect some roads and other County infrastructure, as well as some homes and businesses – and will continue to do so into the future.

The Board of County Commissioners approved a hiring a sustainability director, now known at the County’s Chief Resilience Officer, in 2012. The director’s job is to address sustainability and climate change issues, manage a comprehensive canal restoration project to improve the County’s water quality and to monitor the solid waste and recycling program to help the Florida Keys become more green and sustainable.

In 2017, the Office of Sustainability began the ’Year One’ projects listed in the Monroe County GreenKeys Sustainability Action Plan. The larger projects include:

  • Mobile LiDAR data elevation project: The office is improving the elevation data on the County’s roads and facilities. Before the County can accurately project the effects of sea-level rise on the County’s roads, the County must first have accurate data on the exact elevation of all 300 miles of County roads.
  • Countywide roads analysis: This project, which began in 2018, identifies near-term roads subject to inundation risk, including nuisance flooding. The elevation data from the mobile LiDAR work will be used in the engineering analysis phase of this project.

County Adopts Unified Sea Level Rise Projection for Southeast Florida

The Monroe County Board of County Commissioners adopted the updated Unified Regional Sea Level Rise Projections of the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact and directed staff to utilize the updated projections as the basis for future sea-level rise adaptation planning activities. This action provides the Board with sea-level rise projections and a support document to guide risk assessments and sea-level rise adaptation planning county-wide and in coordination with the region of southeast Florida. The County is using these revised projections in its Roads Adaptation Study, which is currently underway.

This is the third technical Regionally Unified Sea Level Rise Projection document that has been produced that is updated every four to five years by the Climate Compact technical team. The team consists of members from the academic community, federal agencies, local government staff, and includes the most up-to-date, peer-reviewed literature, and climate modeling data.

Estimates of sea-level rise are provided from the baseline year of 2000, and the planning horizon has been extended to 2120, in response to climate scenarios by federal agencies extending beyond the year 2100 and the need for planning for infrastructure with design lives greater than 50 years.

Sea Level Projection Chart

Sea level measured at the Key West gauge has risen approximately 3.9 inches from 2000 to 2017. According to the graph, the mean sea level rise is projected to be the following:

  • 10 to 17 inches from 2000 to 2040 (sea levels have already risen 4 inches through 2017, this means a net additional 6 to 13 inches is projected from 2018 to 2040.)
  • 21 to 54 inches from 2000 to 2070 (sea levels have already risen 4 inches through 2017, this means a net additional 17 to 50 inches from 2018 to 2070.)
  • 40 to 136 inches by 2120

The projection considers regional effects, such as thermal expansion from the warming of the Florida Current, that produce differences in Southeast Florida’s rate of sea level rise compared to other areas in global projections. The NOAA extreme curve is displayed on the Unified Regional Sea Level Rise Projection for informational purposes but is not recommended for design.

The climate is changing, manifesting in significant impacts for the Southeast Florida region, including increasing average temperatures, more intense storm events, and rising sea levels. The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact is the result of Miami-Dade, Monroe, Palm Beach, and Broward counties recognizing the need to create a regionally unified program to ensure consistency in planning and policy in the four-county area.

Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact

Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi and Chief Resilience Officer Rhonda Haag presented at Tuesday’s 12th Annual Southeast Florida Regional Compact Climate Leadership Summit that was held virtually this year due to COVID-19. The summit is an annual event focused on facilitating climate-related collaboration.

Gastesi spoke with Miami-Dade Deputy County Mayor Jack Osterholt during the “Voices of Leadership: Partnerships and Lessons Learned in Preparing for and Managing Cross-Boundary Risks.” While Miami-Dade and Monroe counties are vastly different in size and population, the counties’ cross-boundary systems – including transportation, water supply, and shared economies – and shared risks, from hurricanes to intensifying flooding, means that partnership is foundational to unearthing the solutions required. The two discussed what they have learned from working across boundaries to build long-term preparedness and resilience, including the challenges and need for partnerships.

The internationally recognized Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact was created in 2010 by Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe, and Palm Beach counties to coordinate and collaborate on climate change action across county lines and is a leading example of regional-scale climate action.

Haag provided an update on the countywide roads adaptation study, how the rating of the vulnerability of roads is anticipated to occur, engagement of stakeholders and residents, and what’s next in the “Rising Seas, Raising Roads” segment.

“Monroe County continues to be committed to ensuring resilience efforts and remaining in the forefront and ahead of the cumulative effects of climate change,” said Haag.

For the past 10 years, Monroe County has been preparing for the implementation of resilience plans and modeling to schedule road adaptations, funding, levels of service, among other things. The roads analysis will be completed in 2021 for the 314.06 miles of county-owned roads. 

During the past decade, Monroe County has taken a leading role in the regional effort to combat climate change and adapt to rising seas. The County is continuing its coordination and activities with the four-county Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact.

A revised Regional Climate Action Plan was issued in November 2017 and presented at the 2017 Climate Summit held in Fort Lauderdale. For the County, planning for climate change and sea-level rise must be integrated into all of our decision-making for a cohesive response.

Canal Restoration Program

In 2014, Monroe County embarked on a Canal Restoration Program after a study showed that 311 of the 502 canals throughout the island chain did not meet the State’s minimum water quality criteria – and are a source of nutrients and other contaminants to nearshore waters.

The County has funded $7 million for 8 demonstration projects that used different methods for canal restoration. The purpose was to verify the applicability, feasibility, effectiveness, and costs of the different methods. State and federal grants have contributed more than $1 million to this program.

Results from a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant – which provided funding to address data gaps and changes to the State’s DEP dissolved oxygen methodology and criteria in the canal masterplan – showed a reduction in the number of “Poor” classified canals throughout the Keys. Based on this new information, the County is re-ranking and prioritizing canals for potential restoration projects.

PACE Program

In 2018, the Board of County Commissioners adopted the PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) Program that provides alternative options for funding of projects that increase energy effectiveness. Homeowners can receive funds, based on specific parameters, and pay back the funds through their property taxes.

Climate Modeling Research

The County continues with climate modeling research to better characterize damage assessments from sea level rise.