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Climate Change, Sea Level Rise, and Water Resources Management in South Florida: Implications, Challenges, and Adaptation

Jayantha Obeysekera, Ph.D., P.E.

Chief Modeler
South Florida Water Management District

Summary:

South Florida is home to over 7 million people and its population is projected to increase to over 10 million by 2025 and possibly 12-15 million by 2050.  Through Federal/State/Local partnerships, the Greater Everglades, once a free-flowing, natural marsh system in southern Florida, is being restored under numerous water resources management projects requiring large investments of time and money.  Recent projections of climate change and sea level rise have the potential to cause significant impacts on flood control and water supply functions of water resources management, and on existing and future ecosystem restoration projects in South Florida.  As climate conditions change and sea level rises, south Florida will be concerned with a number of important issues including  (a) changes in rainfall and evaporation patterns; (b) sea level rise resulting in increased saltwater intrusion into the coastal aquifers; (c) sea level rise resulting in reduction of coastal stormwater release capacity; (d) changes in tropical storm and hurricane activity with increased surge levels, and  (e) seawater inundation of ecosystems and coastal real estate.  An assessment of the precipitation projections of climate models shows that their ability to represent the landscape of Florida and predict historical climate patterns may be limited.  In order to understand the vulnerability of the water management system in south Florida under changing precipitation and evapotranspiration amounts, a sensitivity analysis using a regional-scale, hydrologic and water management model was conducted.  The results show the vulnerability of projected climate change on water supply for all water sectors including the environment, and the potential impact of sea level rise on coastal regions.  This presentation will provide a summary of technical investigations on climate variability, climate change, and sea level rise to address the current and future water management concerns and the approach that the South Florida Water Management District and the local governments have initiated to deal with this unprecedented challenge.  New approaches for hydrologic designs of infrastructure to deal with nonstationarity associated with climate change will also be discussed.

Short Bio:

Jayantha Obeysekera is the Chief Modeler at the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD). Prior to this position, he was the Department Director at the SFWMD managing a large group of modelers who conducted regional-scale modeling associated with large-scale projects in south Florida.  He has served as a member of the federal advisory committee which directed the development of the National Climate Assessment (NCA) in 2014.  He was a lead author for the Southeast Chapter of the NCA 2014.  Dr. Obeysekera also served as a member of the Coastal Assessment Regional Scenario Working Group associated with the Department of Defense in the United States. He was also a co-author of the Global and Regional Sea Level Rise Scenarios for United States report published by NOAA in 2017.

Dr. Obeysekera holds a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Sri Lanka, M. Eng. from the University of Roorkee, India, and a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering from Colorado State University with specialization in water resources.  Currently, he serves as an Affiliate Research Professor at Florida Atlantic University. He has served as a member of several committees of the US National Academy of Science covering major water resources projects in Oregon, California, and Texas.  Dr. Obeysekera has published nearly 60 research articles in numerous peer-reviewed journals.  Dr. Obeysekera is a recipient of the Norman Medal of the American Society of Civil Engineers for a technical paper that makes a definitive contribution in engineering.