New Orleans won't be the only U.S. city grappling with flooding over the next century. Rising sea levels and sinking coastal lands mean cities all along U.S. coastlines face a predicted rise in ocean water levels. The increase could be from a manageable few inches to a catastrophic several feet.

Nowhere to Run

Among the U.S. cities facing a threat from rising sea levels, Palm Beach, the Riviera of the U.S., won't be forsaken. Property values between Palm Beach and Miami are estimated at a trillion dollars. No one is about to abandon the area. Rather, say planners and scientists, Florida will seek massive public works to hold back the sea. Projects that, while spread out over a longer period than the reconstruction of the New Orleans levees, will likely dwarf that $10 billion cost.

"We're humans. We want everything to be kept the same," says Dan Trescott, principal planner for the Ft. Myers-based Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council.

With a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), that council late last year completed Florida's first attempt to tackle sea-level rise from an urban planning slant. The study found that nearly 97% of developed Palm Beach County within 1,000 feet of the ocean sits 0 to 10 feet above sea level. Because South Florida's tides can add 5 feet to normal sea level, nearly all of the county's 56,000-plus coastal acres would flood regularly if seas rise 5 feet. A less severe rise would leave higher ground dry but inundate lower areas and open them to more frequent storm flooding. The most vulnerable places include not only many of Palm Beach's mansions but also West Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Jupiter, and 20 other cities.

So, the planners concluded, Florida is likely to pull out all the stops to hold back the sea in Palm Beach County. But even that may not be enough. "I just don't think there's enough money or fill to hold it all back, myself," Trescott warns.

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