Plans and Issues Regarding Miami Beach’s Solutions for Sea Level Rise

#MiamiBeachRisingAbove   The Plans and Issues Regarding Miami Beach’s Solutions for Sea Level Rise

In February 2016 Miami Beach Mayor Phillip Levine stated  “every generation there will be a big challenge, a big cause, a war. I think today we have sea level rise and climate change.”

Link to:  Flood Awareness on Miami Beach

Miami Beach has taken unprecedented measures to protect itself.   It implemented a   $400 million engineering systems program  called “Rising Above” to protect itself from sea level rise, and storm surge.  The inhalation is well underway and has another 3 to 4 years to completion.   The City of Miami Beach is shouldering the cost of the program.  Typically large scale infrastructure programs in America have shared costs between local jurisdictions, the State and the US Federal Government.    However, with Federal and Florida State government denying Climate Change, the City of Miami Beach continues to bear the cost of this enormous engineering program.

The Engineering Solution 101

The primary focus of the Engineering Solutions in one the Biscayne Bay side (west side) of the Miami Beach island.  The ocean side has a wide beach with a substantial dune build-up which for the time being, is somewhat protects the Atlantic ocean side of the island.   Many of the barrier island communities north of Miami Beach do not have such wide beaches and are much more at risk on the eastern ocean-side. With sea level rise beach erosion further north, Miami Beach has been a net collector of sand.  While communities like Hollywood continue to lose sand.

During periods of full moon high tide during the summer months, streets in Miami Beach have experienced minor flooding even on dry days without rainfall.  What was a rare occurrence in the past, it is now rather frequent during summer full moons.   The dry day flooding has been the result of the sea level rising above the storm drainage outlets on the Bay which causes water to be pushed back up the drainage pipes and out the manholes on some streets.

The core components of the engineering solution includes Drainage Pipes, One-way Flex Valves, Pumps Stations with Power Generators and Sea Walls.  In addition, the City had been raising roads in the lowest level and highest risk areas.

Drainage Pipes and One-Way Flex Valves

While mostly utilizing existing Drainage pipes in much of the city, new drainage pipes have been added in just some at risk and redeveloped parts of the island.    The greater focus of the existing effort has been the installation of One-Way Flex Valves on drainage pipes to prevent water from backing up the drainage pipes and into the streets.

Pumps Stations with Power Generators

Large Pump Stations have been built and others have been retrofitted more effective pump water out from city street drainage and into the Bay.  While storm water would normally drain through the force of gravity, the sea level rise above the drainage system requires large pumping systems to actively pump the water out from the city streets through the pipes’ one-way flex vales and into Biscayne Bay.

Diesel power generators have been incorporated into some of the pump stations to keep the pumps working at times where the electric utility wires break, an unfortunately common occurrence when the electrical utility wires are above ground and can be easily damaged by trees and  windstorms.

During the summer 2017,  pumps without sufficient diesel power generation cut out during a full moon rain storm and caused some city streets to flood.  Certainly an embarrassment for the city administration, as many critics called the overall engineering solution a failure.  During Hurricane Irma, the system largely kept city streets drained of heavy water while State roads and unprotected streets had flooding.


Sea Walls

One the western Biscayne side of Miami Beach Island the city has been encouraging the private landowners to increase the height and strengthen sea walls.   As sea wall improvement is largely forced through the City’s permitting power for construction of new buildings or major renovations, large sections of the Bay side remain unprotected.  With some properties having up to code Sea walls and others not, large sections of bayside Miami Beach are not fully protect and at risk for storm surge.


Raising Roads

In sections of Miami Beach the city has increase the height  of city owned streets while also adding supplemental storm drainage systems.   In some cases, the raising of city streets has left adjacent buildings’ main floors and entrances below street level.   This creates new drainage and flooding problems as well as insurance issues for the adjacent properties.

Property owners may find their buildings or at least the below grade level is not insurable.   Property owners can, in some cases, lift their properties or redesign the lower level to better protect against flooding.  The cost to the private property owner for any of these options can be substantial.


  • The Rate and Level of Expected Sea Level Rise
  • City versus State versus Federal vs Private Ownership and Jurisdiction
  • Economic Viability and Costs
  • Insurance Issues
  • Land Use Codes, Building Codes, Landscaping Plans
  • City Powers to Enforce or Incentivize Compliance
  • Politics and City/County Elections


Jimmy Morales, City Manager, Miami Beach.  “Our current plan is how do we stay relatively dry for the next 30 to 60 years. … The real long term issue is how do we create a long term sustainable community?   That includes land use codes, building codes, landscaping plans,  how do we help individual property owners.  Do they raise their houses and buildings. what are the alternatives?   Will insurance companies insure that home, will rates go up? ”  “These is no handbook.”

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development lists Miami as the number-one most vulnerable city worldwide in terms of property damage, with more than $416 billion in assets at risk to storm-related flooding and sea-level rise.  The estimated current market value of Miami Beach property is much higher.


“Given how much Florida has to lose from climate change, the abdication of leadership by state and federal politicians is almost suicidal – when it isn’t downright comical.” 

“With six feet of sea-level rise, South Florida is toast,” says Tom Gustafson, a former Florida speaker of the House and a climate-change-policy advocate.








Is Miami Beach Doomed?

Is Miami Beach Doomed?    Are all Sea Level Cities Doomed?

For every person who says climate change does not exist, there is another person that says most low laying coastal areas are doomed.   More and more people believe  that all cities at or near sea level are doomed to destruction by rising sea levels in the coming decades.  Miami and Miami Beach have been labeled as ground zero in this debate.

The amount of sea level rise in the coming decades is certainly up for debate.  Some experts estimate a six feet rise over the coming century.   Some say more.  Others say the whole thing is a big hoax.

For now in this blog,  I will assume that sea levels are rising and there could be rise of six feet in the coming thirty years.   Even more in the later parts of the century.   In the months ahead, I will examine various models for sea level rise, but for the now, I want to talk about solutions.

Miami Beach is implementing an extraordinary set of actions to reduce the impact of rising sea levels, storm water surge and extreme weather.   I will examine the city’s actions and plans, as well as the issues and criticisms.

The issues related to designing and implementing solutions for rising waters are complex.  First there the issues of the geography of the location. There are the engineering design and cost issues of  physical systems to reduce and remove water from a location.   In addition these are complex issues of jurisdiction,  private property rights, insurance, and adverse impacts of any proposed physical solutions.   These issues coupled with the vast uncertainty of success,  and the many voices claiming that such solutions are a waste of tax payer money, make success seem improbable.  However,  failure is certain is we do not act.  Vision, leadership, intelligence, risk taking and determination are essential to success.

The expected costs of protecting Miami Beach are high.  With half a trillion dollars with of real estate at risk, the dollar costs of failure are much higher.   And its not just Miami Beach and South Florida, implementation and success in Miami will greatly determine the solutions available to the world.

With half of the world population living in areas at risk to sea level rise, it is an economic and moral imperative that we engage these best talent and ideas, and drive the political will to succeed.



Why this blog?

Climate change is happening.  We are starting to see the impact of climate change.   Climate is changing dramatically in many parts of the world.  Sea Levels are rising.  Weather is getting more extreme.

There is tremendous focus on Climate change.  There is far less focus and information on what we can and should be doing to protect our cities from the impacts of climate change, extreme weather, and sea level rise.


I believe that we must engage and develop better solutions to protect against the impacts of climate change.    We should be putting our best thinking towards saving our cities and people homes.  It morally and economically imperative that we act.

I live in Miami Beach.  I have lived and worked in Dubai and marbled at the man-made Palm islands.   I recently visited the land reclamation and water removal systems in the Netherlands. I have good friends who just managed to survive Hurricane Irma in St. Martin.  I am a Stanford Engineer (BS and MS) and a Harvard MBA.  I’ve been a successful entrepreneur.  I know Man has reshaped the Earth, I know we can solve problems and create and implement solutions. I understand the issues of politics, land use, risk, insurance, and religion. Well, perhaps not completely, but enough to get started and continue to learn.  I am doing this because I can.   If we don’t act, we will fail.  If see act, we will mistakes, but he will continue to learn and advance.