New Florida law seeks to protect state from sea level rise

Plan provides $100 million annually to communities along the coast

PANAMA CITY, FL - OCTOBER 17:  Austin Adkins works around debris tossed into the water by Hurricane Michael as he fishes in East Bay on October 17, 2018 in Panama City, Florida. Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle on October 10, as a category 4 storm causing massive damage and claiming nearly 30  lives.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PANAMA CITY, FL - OCTOBER 17: Austin Adkins works around debris tossed into the water by Hurricane Michael as he fishes in East Bay on October 17, 2018 in Panama City, Florida. Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle on October 10, as a category 4 storm causing massive damage and claiming nearly 30 lives. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida — one of the most vulnerable places in the world to sea level rise — will spend hundreds of millions of dollars over the next few years to protect against coastal flooding under a bill Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Wednesday.

The new law will require the Department of Environmental Protection to prepare a flooding and resiliency plan and will provide up to $100 million annually to local communities who identify areas along the coast and other waterways that are at risk to sea level rise.

“This is a really significant amount of resources, we're really putting our money where our mouth is when it comes to protecting the state of Florida, particularly our coastal communities, from the risks of flooding,” DeSantis said at a bill signing ceremony in Tarpon Springs.

Florida's 1,350 miles (2,100 kilometers) of coastline is the lifeblood of its tourism industry. Some areas of the state are already seeing flooding on clear days during particularly high tides.

Republican House Speaker Chris Sprowls said the state needs to not only protect the environment, but to protect homes and businesses “from the might of Mother Nature.”

“With sea level rise, we see our risk grow exponentially, from storm surge and tidal flooding to groundwater and flash flooding," Sprowls said. “We can debate all day the whys and how this happens, but if we just do that and we just debate it all day, we wouldn't do anything.”

The bill DeSantis signed was passed unanimously in the House and Senate.

The Department of Environmental Protection will be required to identify and map out areas most at risk from coastal flooding and rising seas. The law also establishes a research center based at the University of South Florida, located in the Tampa Bay area, focused on counteracting flooding and the risks from sea level rise.

The American Flood Coalition, a nationwide collection of groups working on sea level rise, praised DeSantis and legislative leaders.

“Florida is taking a systemic approach to increased flooding and sea level rise that is now a model for the country,” Melissa Roberts, the coalition's executive director, said in a news release.

Scientists have long sounded the alarm over rising temperatures because of greenhouse gases. Warming global temperatures have caused ice caps to melt, endangering coastal communities as rising waters encroach.

Development on Florida's low-lying coast in places like Miami and other cities eventually could be devastated by flooding.