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Rising Sea Levels, King Tides and Stormwater Flooding Could Be Our New Norm

By February 14, 2024No Comments
Wayne Pathman and Jaimie Mayer

Daily Business Review Guest Column by Wayne Pathman and Jaimie Mayer

February 9, 2024

A significant change in sea levels, and increased frequency of king tides in the coming years are cause for concern, but we emphasize that these events are not unmanageable. South Florida, like any other region, must grow and adapt. We believe the solution is to build better, build higher, and build resilient infrastructure.

It is no secret that rising sea levels and stormwater flooding threaten South Florida’s coastal communities. South Florida sits atop limestone and muck (mud), which is porous and allows water to rise from underneath. This creates a unique dilemma: sea level rise will cause water to penetrate the ground from underneath as well as spill over land barriers. Miami-Dade County and the surrounding areas have begun planning to address these risks. Over time, the county and many cities have established climate resiliency offices to address flooding and stormwater concerns, mapping out zones that they deemed high risk and developing solutions. Some measures have been taken to combat these concerns, such as installing stormwater pumps, raising roads and improving drainage. However, these measures alone will not provide enough relief.

As for future development, the federal, state, and local governments should work with developers and provide incentives, through its building and zoning codes, to incorporate infrastructure for stormwater flooding and sea level rise in the initial project design. Over the past few years, we have seen tremendous growth in Florida. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Florida is the fastest growing state in the nation. For residents of South Florida, it seems developers are constantly breaking ground on new projects.

A significant change in sea levels, and increased frequency of king tides in the coming years are cause for concern, but we emphasize that these events are not unmanageable. South Florida, like any other region, must grow and adapt. We believe the solution is to build better, build higher, and build resilient infrastructure.

Will Insurance Rates Influence the Market?

When it comes to the real estate market, insurance will drive the train. Insurance companies measure risk to determine which geographic areas are likely to be impacted by storms, stormwater flooding and future sea level rise. Individual homeowners can gauge their risk level by their insurance rates; if their policy rates are rising, then so is their perceived risk.

We are seeing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) changing their regulatory system where flood insurance is concerned. FEMA used to base a property’s flood risk off the general area where it was located and provide a similar risk-based rate for all policyholders within that area. Taking a more tailored approach, FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program’s Risk Rating 2.0 has moved toward individual assessments. FEMA now considers an individual property’s foundation type, elevation, distance to water and overall stormwater resiliency. We believe that during the next 20 years, homeowners will start to see flood insurance become extremely costly as the risk continues to climb. If this insurance trend continues, communities may have no option but to take on flood-mitigation themselves. We warn of the possibility that areas that flood regularly may become areas that private insurers, and the federal government, will decide not to insure.

Planned retreat from high-risk areas, if they become unaffordable to insure, may be an option for consideration. “Planned retreat” is an effort by local government to relocate individuals living in naturally vulnerable areas. So, what will homeowners do if their rates keep climbing? We may see homeowners move away from waterfront, flood-vulnerable, or low-lying areas in favor of properties on higher ground.

Local Government and Its Role

The most effective way the region can prepare and address storm surges, king tides and stormwater flooding is to include residents and developers in the conversation. Planning for a sustainable future must be a concerted effort by all who are affected. The Miami Climate Resilience Committee is currently developing a forum of developers, residents, and government officials to address the risks of sea level rise and the impact stormwater flooding has on local infrastructure.

We need to look at assessing, planning, building and appropriating funds for a resilient and sustainable future. To have effective planning, the government, its citizens, and developers need to engage with each other in creating solutions. To illustrate how the federal and local government can work together on this issue, consider the U.S. Army Corps’ Miami-Dade Back Bay Study which aims to reduce the damage and risks of storm surges following hurricanes and tropical storms. The current idea to thwart these surges is to install floodgates, like those used in Rotterdam, at Haulover Cut, Government Cut and on the south side of Fisher Island. Likely to undergo additional iterations, we are encouraged by these proposed solutions.

Simply put, the threat is large and will require an effective, resilient, and eco-conscious solution. Afterall, South Florida development is not slowing down. We think it’s important that future development, and government projects, undertake and implement better, resilient, and sustainable infrastructure for future flooding events. The signs are already there. We have more  flooding events due to heavier rainfall; we have more impacts due to king tides; we have rising insurance rates; and we have areas that flood frequently.

As a community, we have an obligation to address these issues now. We must promote the development of sustainable infrastructure and incentivize developers to build resilient projects. Government alone will not solve the issues born from flooding and sea level rise. A great example of proactive development is the 35-story office building,1450 Brickell. Miami’s first LEED Gold–certified private office building quickly proved the general rule of thumb: for every dollar invested in resiliency, you get $5 back. The reality is we must plan for rising sea levels, king tides and stormwater flooding because mother nature is coming and she’s not negotiable.

Wayne M. Pathman is the managing partner of Miami-based Pathman Law. He is the immediate past chairman and a member of the city of Miami’s Climate Resilience Committee. He is also the past chairman of the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce. He focuses on land use, zoning and environmental law, water law, and complex commercial litigation and can be reached at

Jaimie E. Mayer is an associate at the firm practicing in land use and zoning and commercial litigation. Contact her at