Come To Miami, Florida’s Sea Level and Sewage Capital

January 14, 2019

I went to Miami in. 2016 with Jeff Goodell of Rolling Stone, and saw for myself the rise of sea level enhanced flooding in a poor neighborhood – where scientists have sampled all manner of pathogen and toxic pollutants being percolated up out of the soil and onto the streets where citizens work and children are expected to play.

Miami Herald:

Miami-Dade has tens of thousands of septic tanks, and a new report reveals most are already malfunctioning — the smelly and unhealthy evidence of which often ends up in people’s yards and homes. It’s a billion-dollar problem that climate change is making worse.

As sea level rise encroaches on South Florida, the Miami-Dade County study shows that thousands more residents may be at risk — and soon. By 2040, 64 percent of county septic tanks (more than 67,000) could have issues every year, affecting not only the people who rely on them for sewage treatment, but the region’s water supply and the health of anyone who wades through floodwaters.

“That’s a huge deal for a developed country in 2019 to have half of the septic tanks not functioning for part of the year,” said Miami Waterkeeper Executive Director Rachel Silverstein. “That is not acceptable.”

Sea level rise is pushing the groundwater even higher, eating up precious space and leaving the once dry dirt soggy. Waste water doesn’t filter like it’s supposed to in soggy soil. In some cases, it comes back out, turning a front yard into a poopy swamp.

High tides or heavy rains can push feces-filled water elsewhere, including King Tide floodwaters — as pointed out in a 2016 study from Florida International University and NOAA — or possibly the region’s drinking supply.

In total, there are about 108,000 properties within the county that still use septic, about 105,000 of which are residential. The vast majority (more than 65,000) of the septic systems are in unincorporated Miami-Dade.

Miami Gardens, North Miami Beach, Palmetto Bay and Pinecrest have the most of any city, at about 5,000 each.

Some of those cities will see hundreds more septic tanks experiencing yearly failures within the decade, like North Miami Beach, which has 2,780 homes with septic tanks with periodic issues now. By 2030, that is expected to jump to 3,751.

The report did not forecast past 2040, when the region is expecting around 15 inches of sea rise, a number that is predicted to creep exponentially upward over the decades.

As nuisance flooding increases, the wealthy are moving to higher ground, formerly less desirable areas – and pushing out low income residents. Climate gentrification creating a new generation of climate refugees.


A modern glass home sits on the edge of the water in Miami Beach. The ground-level master suite has a soaking tub that looks out to the ocean, and the bedroom’s glass doors allow the owner to roll out of the sheets and onto the yacht. It is listed for sale at $25 million.

Another Miami home sits on a garbage-strewn street in Little Haiti, about five miles inland. Its owner can walk out the front door and see a dead chicken in the street. It is listed for sale at $559,000, but some experts claim it is a better investment than $25 million mansion.


The mansion, while highly desirable and exquisitely appointed, is paradise at a price, because rising tides and increasingly extreme storms may already be lowering its value. On the other hand, the home in Little Haiti, which sits on high ground with little risk of flooding, is appreciating at a fast clip. It has nearly doubled in value in just the past two years, according to Zillow.

“What we see here is a theory of climate gentrification that suggests that in Miami, higher elevation land will be worth more,” said Harvard University’s Jesse Keenan, who co-authored the first peer-reviewed study offering evidence of the existence of a climate change signal in the real estate market.

The study tracked the values of more than 100,000 single-family homes across Miami going back 45 years.

“What we found is that the higher elevation properties are essentially worth more now, and increasingly will be worth more in the future,” Keenan said. “Populations, including speculative real estate investment will densify in these high elevation areas.”

Keenan claims home values on Miami’s coast are already worth 10 percent less now than they would be if climate change didn’t exist.

Universities, climate research groups and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have made dire predictions about sea-level rise in Miami — the ocean overtaking vast swaths of real estate over the coming decades. So-called “nuisance” flooding, when king tides come in on sunny days, is already common in some neighborhoods.

That, argues Keenan, is why wealthier investors are now displacing low-income residents in high-elevation neighborhoods, like Little Haiti.

9 Responses to “Come To Miami, Florida’s Sea Level and Sewage Capital”

  1. dumboldguy Says:

    When I was a kid we moved to a fast-developing town on the suburban fringe in northern NJ where we all had septic tanks. My house and a few others in our neighborhood built on a heavy clay bed had problems—-flush a toilet and watch water burble up in the yard. We all had to have pits dug and filled with sand to get the septic fields to percolate. Nasty and stinky in warm weather—not a fond memory for a 12-year-old. It was taken care of when city sewers were extended to our neighborhood (we already had city water).

    Sympathies to the folks in FL, whose situation is much worse (and more dangerous to health).

    The Perfect Tide is still one of your better efforts, and the “climate gentrification” clip illustrates man’s capability for self-delusion, as well as the racism and economic elitism that drives our whole society.

    • Peter Irvin Smith Says:

      How can you tell that Miami’s apparent rise in sea level is really that? It could equally be that the weight of all those skyscrapers is pushing down the seashore land level. Have there been investigations into the comparative elevations of points shoreline and some miles inland fifty years ago and now? Without such comparisons a link between Miami “sea rise” and “climate change” is tenuous.

      • My goodness your utter ignorance of geology, hydrology and hydrography is absolutely astonishing, were you home schooled?

        Coastline building does NOT:
        add significantly to the mass pressing down on a bedrock;
        increase the infiltration of saline water into the limestone bedrock;
        cause septic tank malfunctions.

        Sea level rise at an accelerated pace has been recorded by multiple instruments, using multiple methods by multiple agencies worldwide.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        You can find articles on non-scientific RWNJ sites like the The Daily Caller that will say that because they are anti-climate change, but the truth lies elsewhere. There HAS been some sinking (or subsidence) on the west side of Miami Beach, which was built on fill that is compressing—-6 to 10 inches. This has been verified through inSAR satellite studies—read more here:

        Click to access fiaschi-wdowinski.pdf

        You sound like you don’t know much about SLR—-here’s a good basic source (and you can look up other states there as well)

      • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

        How can you tell that Miami’s apparent rise in sea level is really that? It could equally be that the weight of all those skyscrapers is pushing down the seashore land level.

        The City of Miami is built on limestone rock, and offshore (but connected by a lot of bridges) Miami Beach is built on a barrier island. Limestone itself will compress v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y under weight over many centuries, yes, but we know that, locally, the increase in ocean volume is what’s making Miami most vulnerable to sea level rise.

        Coastlines made of cumulative river sediments do slump down faster than rocky coastlines, and fluid extraction (water and oil wells) will accelerate how fast local sea level rises, but Miami itself is primarily founded on rock.

  2. redskylite Says:

    This is no time for denial or lame alternative theories, this is the time for intense action and hopefully all working together in peace and industry, else we will leave a legacy of misery. Listen to the experts, who are well educated and live to study warn and advise.

    “That’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak,” Rignot said. “As the Antarctic ice sheet continues to melt away, we expect multi-meter sea level rise from Antarctica in the coming centuries.” In this century alone, a ten-foot rise is possible, he said.

    Antarctic ice melting 6 times faster than it did in ’80s

    Antarctica Is Losing Ice 6 Times Faster Today Than in 1980s

    Eric Rignot, a University of California, Irvine, ice scientist, was the lead author on the new study in Monday’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He said the big difference is that his satellite-based study found East Antarctica, which used to be considered stable, is losing 56 billion tons (51 billion metric tons) of ice a year.

  3. […] Come To Miami, Florida’s Sea Level and Sewage Capital […]

  4. redskylite Says:

    Are We Living Through Climate Change’s Worst-Case Scenario?

    “We’re a lot closer than we should be,” one Stanford scientist warned.

    “God help us if 8.5 turns out to be the right scenario,” Jackson told me. Under RCP 8.5, the world’s average temperature would rise by 4.9 degrees Celsius, or nearly 9 degrees Fahrenheit. “That’s an inconceivable increase for global temperatures—especially when we think about them being global average temperatures,” he said. “Temperatures will be even higher in the northern latitudes, and higher over land than over the ocean.”

  5. redskylite Says:

    They can’t yet vote, or divest from investment, but they can (and do) plant trees . . .

    Planting the Future: children help create England’s largest forest in 30 years

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