Water flows downhill. Heated water expands. The moon’s proximity to the Earth affects the height of tides. Dropping pressure in a storm raises tide levels, and wind increases the height of waves.
As we enter another hurricane season, I’m thinking a lot about water.
Hide from wind, the old Florida adage goes, and run from water.
Again, water. My small house is on the coastal ridge in Ocean Ridge and my large yard is planted for maximum stormwater retention.
Still, in every heavy rain, I watch water flow down the gravel driveway and push farther along the street toward storm drains that inevitably back up from water both rushing down pavement and pushing up from the Intracoastal Waterway. The street often becomes impassible, stranding residents in their homes.
Along State Road A1A, non-permeable driveways without swales dump water into low spots, causing road closures. Slowly the Florida Department of Transportation is incorporating improved drainage into resurfacing, restoration and rehabilitation plans. Work should begin in Highland Beach a year from now and last about 18 months, before moving north up the highway toward South Palm Beach. Residents will no doubt fight the changes, believing they control the property within the state’s easement.
At the foot of bridges to the barrier island, standing water often makes passage impossible. It also means public safety vehicles can’t get on or off the island until the water subsides. Most of these streets are under the purview of adjacent cities and towns that show little interest in anything other than growth.
Also frightening are the number of new multi- and single-family homes being built along streets already prone to flooding. New homes are built on fill and elevated above flood level — which may keep them high and dry and insurance rates acceptable, but what about their neighbors in homes closer to street level?
Most low-lying older homes were built before standards for elevation and water retention existed. Even the new properties are designed to handle only so much water — an inch or two a day is frequently all that’s required by local code. So, as ever-larger homes with smaller and smaller yards are built, where does the runoff go? Downhill, of course.
And high-rise towers built into crowded downtowns with little green space and chronic street flooding? Cities like to talk about the benefits of density and an increased tax base, but where are their plans to mitigate a public safety crisis from a hurricane or heavy rain event?
The National Weather Service is predicting a reduction in hurricane activity this summer during a forecasted El Niño weather pattern in the Pacific — likely good news for Florida.
But these scientists also predict a higher risk of flooding due to increased precipitation throughout the Southeast. That’s water, folks. They are warning us about water.
Tell your elected officials to pay attention and prepare.
It’s summer. The water is coming.
— Mary Kate Leming, Editor