Sea level rise and canal restoration get a big boost from the state

Rhonda Haag, Chief Sustainability Officer for Monroe County, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about keeping the future bright.

The state has given Monroe County $45 million to try to mitigate sea level rise and help with canal restoration.

Haag said, “There’s three big projects. One is in the Upper Keys. It’s the Key Largo Winston Waterways garden area. That’s two and a half miles. That’s $30 million total costs. So we received a grant of $15 million. The next one is in the Middle Key, Conch Keys. That’s 2500 feet, that’s $7 million. So we received a grant of $3.5 million. Then the largest one is in the Lower Keys in the Big Coppitt area. That covers four and a half miles of roads in the Big Coppitt area, that’s $50 million cost. We received a match of $24 million. So between the three of them, it’s $45 million in grant funds.”

The design for the projects could take a couple of years.

Haag said, “We have to bid out for that. We have to first get the grants from the state, and then move forward with design and then do the construction. These are really good projects, but we still have to pay that 50 percent match. That’s $45 million. The county doesn’t have that kind of cash laying around. So you’re probably going to hear some discussion in the upcoming months about just how many of these projects in the total $2 billion plan we’re going to be able to do without some new additional funding source. I believe we’re probably at our limit with these three, plus the demonstration projects that are already funded, unless we come up with some sort of alternative new funding source.”

Canal restoration is another source of projects.

Haag said, “We’re just about to start with two injection wells. These are pilot projects, because we haven’t used these before, and one is going to go in the Eden Pine neighborhoods in Big Pine Key and the other in the Calusa campground area of Key Largo. What these are, it’s typically a well. We put it at the back end of a canal, and what that does is it draws in water constantly. It pulls in the freshwater from the mouth of the canal back towards the back where there typically is not a lot of flushing. So hopefully, that will help increase the levels of oxygen in the water. These aren’t full canal restoration, but with $500 million of projects on the books, we’re never going to have that kind of money to spend. We’re going to test these two and see how well they can at least help restore the levels of oxygen in the water because that’s really what these canal restorations are all about. So we’re really excited to get going on those. We’re about to break ground here in the next 30 days on those two.”

The waters in the area have been heating up with these high temperatures lately.

Haag said, “That’s why you have sea level rise because the ice caps are melting and the glaciers are melting and that’s why the levels of the seas are rising, but they’re also getting warmer. There’s why you see the warmer waters and of course the warmer air temperature. Everybody needs to keep our fingers crossed because those really warm waters, if there’s a hurricane that comes along, that’s what can contribute to those really much stronger hurricanes like you saw on the west coast of Florida last year. So everybody keep our fingers crossed, we don’t see one of those this year.”

The warmer water affects sea life.

Haag said, “It affects humans, too. The city of Miami, Miami Dade, they hired an officer to deal with these heat effects. We’re kind of following along with what they’re doing. We’re watching and seeing what the effects are to humans, too. It affects not just nature, but humans too.”

There are two other canal projects going on at the moment.

Haag said, “One in Geiger Key where we’re putting a culvert in to help improve flushing in canals and one over in Big Pine Key also, canal 259. So those have been underway for about two, three weeks, and they’re going well and they don’t take too long to put a culvert in. But those are instant gratification because as soon as you put that culvert to connect the canals to another source of water, it’s an instant increase in the levels of oxygen and an instant increase in the levels of sea life that you see in those.”