BRADENTON, Fla. - Local governments in Florida will benefit from a federal study and restoration projects designed to stem the damage caused by rising sea levels, according to Moody's Investors Service.
The study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is a positive credit factor because it will include identifying risks and prioritizing projects eligible for federal funding, Moody's said Friday.
"Without the expansion of the Corps' role in research and restoration projects, local governments would have to absorb this additional expense with potentially negative financial consequences," analysts said.
The South Atlantic Regional Systems Management Strategy, being developed by the Corps, will create a comprehensive assessment to address current and future coastal storm and flood risks along the south Atlantic coastline, from the Carolinas to Florida.
Moody's said Florida, and especially southeastern counties in the state, will benefit from the assessment as they continue ongoing planning efforts to address projections of rising water levels.
Pre-disaster planning can save communities about 75% of post-storm costs, Col. Jason Kirk, commander of the Jacksonville District for the Corps, said in an April 20 newspaper column addressing efforts at all levels of government to deal with the challenges posed by rising sea levels.
"The stakes are high, but the Army Corps of Engineers alongside state, federal and local partners have the knowledge and capability to collaboratively engineer solutions that overcome challenges," Kirk wrote.
Once such effort is the state-federal partnership to restore the Everglades and its ecosystem, which is being choked by harmful discharges upstream and a massive network of flood-control canals built years ago in south Florida.
Repairing the water flow and other projects, Kirk said, will help revive the Everglades and reduce saltwater intrusion accelerated by sea level rise in aquifers that serve as a source of drinking water.
"An adequate supply of freshwater is vital to the state, as Florida's population continues to grow and the project will benefit water utilities," Moody's analysts said. "Without this restoration effort, water utilities would likely have to invest in more robust treatment, raising capital costs and borrowing."
Moody's also said the assessment strategy by the Corps will prioritize coastal research efforts, identify vulnerabilities, and build on a host of efforts that have been undertaken primarily in south Florida.
In Miami Beach, where higher-than-normal "King tides" cover sidewalks and roads, the city has planned about $500 million in improvements to the stormwater system and to raise streets to combat flooding.
In 2010, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Broward and Monroe counties created the joint Southeast Florida Regional Climate Action Plan.
The Climate Action Plan jointly advocates for state and federal funding for projects that prepare the region for greater flooding and environmental damage due to increased storm activity rising sea levels.
"Federal grant funding is available for a variety of projects, although there is often competition for these funds," Moody's said. "We will continue to monitor the cost of addressing environmental risks for all credits."