A lot, and we’re glad to explain.

The Patterson Foundation launched Higher Waters: Suncoast Quality of Life in February to explore sea level rise and its impacts on our coastal region – its people, places, economies, environments, and quality of life.

We began by seeking and assembling science-driven information about sea level rise: recent trends, current circumstances, and future projections. The following sources show how sea levels have risen and how they are expected to go higher in the near future: Relative Sea Level Trend, Climate Change: Global Sea Level, and Sea Level Rise Viewer.

After reviewing this information and loads of other data, we turned to individuals and institutions working in this realm regionally and locally.

By mid-July, we interviewed 16 individuals, including university-based researchers, local and regional government resiliency specialists and planners, a utilities engineer, community-based environmentalists, a leader in the construction industry, and aggregators of media reports about rising seas.

We’ll reconnect with them to share what we’ve learned and conduct additional interviews to broaden our outreach.

Meanwhile, we’ve learned enough to report:
  1. The Patterson Foundation’s initiative was welcome among those we’ve interviewed. TPF’s work supporting the efforts of individuals and organizations has established the foundation as a trusted, independent resource capable of informing and engaging communities.

  2. Significant work related to sea level rise has been conducted and continues.

    For instance, most cities and counties in our region – Charlotte, DeSoto, Manatee, and Sarasota counties – have conducted initial studies to assess their vulnerability to the effects of higher waters. Those assessments, performed four or five years ago, need updating. (These reports can be found on local government websites.)

The Florida Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection will be issuing Resilient Florida grants in the next few years for local governments to perform more detailed, updated analyses of vulnerabilities and opportunities to adapt to sea level rise.

The Sarasota Bay Estuary Program is intensifying its focus on rising waters. The Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council is coordinating efforts between local governments and citizens to prepare for higher waters.

The Science and Environment Council, a local consortium of private- and public-sector organizations, conducted a pre-pandemic summit focused on sea level rise and is planning another such event for 2023.

The First Street Foundation, a research and technology nonprofit, has created visual models identifying risks to specific properties from climate events, including flooding linked to rising waters. (Enter your home or business address to view a risk assessment.)

Despite all the studies and accumulated data, more research, planning, and preparation related to sea level rise are warranted. A particular need is a closer examination of the effects of higher waters on barrier islands and along bays, rivers, and creeks – as well as inland, where sea level rise could contribute to worse and more frequent flooding.

Higher Waters: Suncoast Quality of Life initiative has made progress, but we, along with our communities and governments, have a lot of work yet to do.

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