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Miami Uses Pumps To Battle Flooding From Sea Level Rise

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Miami Uses Pumps To Battle Flooding From Sea Level Rise

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Miami Uses Pumps To Battle Flooding From Sea Level Rise

Miami Uses Pumps To Battle Flooding From Sea Level Rise

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To combat sea level rise, one of the consequences of climate change, Miami Beach is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to install new storm sewers and pumps.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A couple times a year, the gravitational pull of the moon and sun produce so-called king tides. Climate change is raising sea levels, which means these big tides are becoming a problem. NPR's Greg Allen reports from Miami Beach.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: There was a news conference in Miami Beach at one of the lowest spots on the island. The city's mayor, Philip Levine, recalled being at the same spot a year ago, during that king tide.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

MAYOR PHILIP LEVINE: The difference was I was on a kayak.

ALLEN: In Miami Beach, especially when coupled with rainstorms, king tides have produced flooding, damaging cars and property. But in this week's king tide, unlike in the past, Miami Beach's streets were mostly dry.

All along Miami Beach, construction like this has been going on for months. Work crews have torn up the roads, and using excavators and front loaders, they've been installing new storm sewers and pumps.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONSTRUCTION)

LEVINE: It's a great test, proof positive, that our system can work. And we need to perfect it. And we need to come up with new technology. This is just the beginning.

ALLEN: Mayor Levine says going forward, cities will need more help from the federal government. President Obama's top environmental official, EPA administrator Gina McCarthy, came to Miami Beach to see the city's new pumps and storm sewers in action. But, she warned, America can't pump its way out of sea level rise. The key, she says, is building a national consensus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In 40 years of reducing pollution, McCarthy argued, the EPA has shown it can be done without dire economic consequences.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

GINA MCCARTHY: We keep being successful while the GDP keeps rising. If we can do it for other pollutants, there's no reason why we can't do it for carbon pollution.

ALLEN: With blue skies overhead and dry streets underfoot, it was a time for congratulations and a rare bit of good news on efforts to adapt to climate change. But Hal Wanless, professor of geological science at the University of Miami, was there with a dose of realism. Miami Beach's streets are dry today, he said, but what about in three decades?

HAL WANLESS: Sea level will probably be about two feet higher. And it's going to be tough to keep it out because this is porous sand, and below that and on the mainland is porous limestone, and... So at some point, this is going to be almost impossible to keep dry.

ALLEN: It's a pessimistic outlook for Miami Beach based on science. But so far, it's not widely shared by the people who live here. Mayor Levine says South Beach is still hot, attracting new businesses and home buyers.

LEVINE: Prices today are going to be higher than they were last year. They continue to climb. There's a tremendous amount of confidence. Miami Beach's future is greater today than it's ever been.

ALLEN: It's an optimism likely to be tested in the years ahead. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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