30 january 2018

Commentary Zirpoli: The water will come, whether you believe in climate change or not

Tom ZirpoliTom ZirpoliContact Reporter

In his book “The Water Will Come,” Jeff Goodell outlines what is happening to our cities along the coasts as the Earth warms, polar caps melt and our oceans rise. His focus is on coastal cities such as Miami, New York, Norfolk, Virginia, and Venice, as well as ocean islands.

His presentation is not just about what will happen in years to come, but what is happening now in cities along the coasts and ocean islands as oceans rise.

In addition to the water damage to homes and infrastructure, the flooding is causing health problems. In Miami, for example, floods overwhelm the municipal sewer system and dump millions of gallons of sewage into neighborhood streets and Biscayne Bay. Goodell estimates that about 20 percent of the people in and around Miami depend on “old fashioned backyard septic tanks” which are “old and poorly maintained.” As the ground becomes saturated with seawater, septic tanks leak or float to the surface and pollute the flood water. Scientists who have tested these floods report that they are a soup of polluted water not even safe to walk through.

Goodell spends a significant portion of his book addressing how rising oceans present a direct threat to our national security infrastructure. He states that “The Pentagon manages a global real estate portfolio that includes over 555,000 facilities and 28 million acres of land — virtually all of it will be impacted by climate change in some way.” For example, the U.S. Southern Command is located near Miami International Airport where the risk for significant flooding is high.

Also, the U.S. military has dozens of bases on ocean islands slowly disappearing due to eroding shorelines and rising water.

According to Goodell, many “military bases are at risk from sea-level rise and storm surges.” These include the nation’s largest Air Force base, Eglin Air Force Base, located on the Florida Panhandle, and the Norfolk Naval Base, where many of our nation’s aircraft carriers dock. But the piers where the carriers dock are being overwhelmed by the Atlantic Ocean. New ones are being built, but not enough of them and not fast enough. The Navy reports that these football field-sized piers are frequently not operational during high tide or during storms because the electrical wiring running under the piers becomes submerged in seawater.

A sad commentary on the politics of global warming is the game military leaders must play with federal and state politicians to get what they need to deal with rising water without actually referring to “global warming” or “climate change.” Sections of Norfolk and Virginia Beach, home to some of the Navy’s largest sea and air bases in the world, flood on a daily basis. Some neighborhoods flood twice a day with each high tide. One Navy admiral stated that even if they could secure their bases from the rising water — and they can’t — their workforce can’t get to work because of flooded city roads.

A newspaper article in The Virginian-Pilot last week took note of sailors collecting used Christmas trees to “shore up the shoreline” at the Joint Expeditionary Base in Virginia Beach, home to Navy SEALs and other units. They were placing hundreds of trees along the sand dunes in an effort to keep the sand from eroding. This was being done, according to Sharon Waligora, spokesperson at the base, “to protect not only our training beaches, but also our infrastructure.”

The same is true with state politicians in southern Florida who don’t want to discuss rising water because it could cause a real estate crash in places like Miami. So when Florida Power and Light wanted to build a nuclear power plant on low land just south of Miami and on the edge of Biscayne Bay, it was approved. The mayor of South Miami, Philip Stoddard, said, “It is impossible to imagine a stupider place to build a nuclear plant.” The plant, as described by Goodell, “is completely exposed to hurricanes and rising seas.” It was built with elevated reactors — 20 feet above sea level — to prevent a nuclear catastrophe like what happened in Japan when sea water overwhelmed reactors and backup generators. Is 20 feet enough? Consider that Hurricane Katrina had a storm surge of 28 feet.

The United States spent over $300 billion in 2017 dealing with emergencies directly related to climate change, mostly due to flood damage. The costs are likely to increase each year as storms become stronger and the oceans continue to rise.

Regardless of our political beliefs about climate change, the water will come. In many places, as outlined by Goodell, the water is here.

>>> Back to list