Development policies enacted by Florida Governor Rick Scott have exacerbated the potential for catastrophic flooding from Hurricane Irma, The Intercept reports.
“The Republican governor prioritized development over ecological restoration of wetlands. Scott cut funding for the state’s water management districts in 2011, leading to staff reductions and less funding for ecosystem restoration projects,” The Intercept explained. “Around the same time, Scott signed the state legislature’s repeal of the state’s 1985 growth management law, leading to a spike in development.”
The outer bands of Hurricane Harvey are already reaching South Florida.
“As Hurricane Harvey demonstrated in Houston, however, development from depleted wetlands can exacerbate the effects of storms: Water from rain and storm surges will have fewer places to go when the storm makes landfall, creating a greater potential for catastrophic flooding,” The Intercept noted. “Wetlands act as barriers to the destructiveness of hurricanes. Both coastal and inland wetlands perform different functions to slow the impact of the storms by absorbing storm surge and soaking up rainfall, respectively.”
Professor William J. Mitsch, the director of the Everglades Wetland Research Park, described a “double whammy” of Scott’s $700 million cut to Florida’s water management districts and replacement of scientists with development-friendly lawyers.
“In addition to cutting funding,” said Mitsch, “I saw a change in the agency where they were less working for water quality, wetlands, and nature; and more working for industries. They are serving [industry] more than the people of Florida.”
Prioritizing development has left Florida less prepared for Hurricane Irma.
“Open land in Florida, with its porous terrain, can suck up the energy of the storm,” The Intercept reminded. “But when passing over developed land, a storm can retain more of its power.”