FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. (WSVN) - Officials across South Florida municipalities and state lawmakers are calling for improvements on dozens of canals over fears of flooding, a problem that, they said, needs to be fixed fast.
Drivers and residents who have spoken with 7News in recent months said this is a pressing concern.
“We’ve never, ever, ever, ever had [water] this high,” said a woman.
“Never seen it like this,” said a man.
Too much water from tropical storms and steady downpours has come down on South Florida, and there is nowhere for it to go.
For 60 years, the networks of canals that crisscross Miami-Dade and Broward counties have protected residents from most inclement weather, for the most part.
But South Florida’s luck may be running out.
“Now we’re stuck with this flooding on a regular basis,” said a resident.
“We can do nothing about this. It is like it is,” said another resident.
Not necessarily, according to extperts and lawmakers, but the clock is ticking.
“We’re eight years away from system failure. We have to start working on this,” said Florida State Rep. Robin Bartleman.
The issue centers around canal gates throughout the area that are opened when water levels, especially in inland neighborhoods, are high. They allow gravity to do the work, letting the water flow downward toward the ocean.
But a 2009 study identified 18 water control structures in Miami-Dade and Broward that are within six inches of failure.
Meanwhile, experts said sea levels are expected to rise three inches in the next decade.
That means, as the water on the east side rises, it will become more difficult, even impossible, to drain water from the western residential neighborhoods.
“With no improvement, we can’t open those gates and release those floodwaters,” said Dr. Jennifer Jurado, Broward Chief Resilience Officer. “If we did, we’d be allowing ocean water to pour in.”
Video of a recent king tide event shows the water on the east side is just too high, and there is no way to release the high water on the west side. Water is seen lapping over the top of the gate.
“You should be paying attention, because this is going to affect everything from insurance rates to mortgage rates to where you can build, to what your property looks like, how quick the water drains,” said Broward County Mayor Michael Udine.
County experts noted it’s not the areas near the gates that are potentially at risk but large swaths of South Florida.
“This impacts 11 million people and one-third of Florida’s economy,” said Bartleman.
Bills currently making their way through the Florida legislature would require the situation to be studied and monitored. While that might not seem like enough, officials said it’s the first step to actually fixing the problem.
That could be expensive. County officials said it could include pumps that cost nearly $100 million or canal improvements.
“It really only takes one flood event to realize just what that exposure feels like, where there’s no relief and there’s no way to escape those waters.,” said Jurado.
“Eight years from now, when the infrastructure fails, people are going to go, ‘What did you do? What did you do, legislators? What did you do, governor? Did you know about this?'” said Bartleman.
A bill from Bartleman, a Democrat, is making its way through the Florida House, but this is a bipartisan effort. Republican State Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez has introduced a companion bill in the Florida Senate.
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