Economic impacts of urban flooding in South Florida: Potential consequences of managing groundwater to prevent salt water intrusion

Sci Total Environ. 2018 Apr 15;621:465-478. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.10.251. Epub 2017 Dec 1.

Abstract

High-value urban zones in coastal South Florida are considered particularly vulnerable to salt water intrusion into the groundwater-based, public water supplies caused by sea level rise (SLR) in combination with the low topography, existing high water table, and permeable karst substrate. Managers in the region closely regulate water depths in the extensive South Florida canal network to control closely coupled groundwater levels and thereby reduce the risk of saltwater intrusion into the karst aquifer. Potential SLR adaptation strategies developed by local managers suggest canal and groundwater levels may have to be increased over time to prevent the increased salt water intrusion risk to groundwater resources. However, higher canal and groundwater levels cause the loss of unsaturated zone storage and lead to an increased risk of inland flooding when the recharge from rainfall exceeds the capacity of the unsaturated zone to absorb it and the water table reaches the surface. Consequently, higher canal and groundwater levels are also associated with increased risk of economic losses, especially during the annual wet seasons. To help water managers and urban planners in this region better understand this trade-off, this study models the relationships between flood insurance claims and groundwater levels in Miami-Dade County. Via regression analyses, we relate the incurred number of monthly flood claims in 16 Miami-Dade County watersheds to monthly groundwater levels over the period from 1996 to 2010. We utilize these estimated statistical relationships to further illustrate various monthly flood loss scenarios that could plausibly result, thereby providing an economic quantification of a "too much water" trade-off. Importantly, this understanding is the first of its kind in South Florida and is exceedingly useful for regional-scale hydro-economic optimization models analyzing trade-offs associated with high water levels.

Keywords: Groundwater flooding; Hydro-economic optimization; Saltwater intrusion; South Florida; Urban flood penalty function.