Florida, like other coastal states, faces the continual challenge of how to maintain beaches in the face of increased erosion, exacerbated by sea level rise, severe storm events, and certain coastal developments. Earlier this year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed a $11.5 million dollar project to restore beaches in Florida including widening Miami Beach. In September, Hurricane Irma washed much of this away, as seen in these before and after photos. Miami Beach’s environmental director reports that the sand dunes and wider beach were effective in slowing the storm surge and retaining some of the sand. Nevertheless, Irma washed away hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of sand in Florida, and significant storms will continue to affect beaches, particularly where seawalls, jetties, and other forms of shoreline armoring prevent the beach and coastal ecosystems from migrating inland. As of 2016, over 400 miles of Florida’s beaches were characterized as “critically eroded” by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Water Resources Management (click here for the Division’s August 2016 report, “Critically Eroded Beaches in Florida”).
An increasingly difficult problem for local governments is where to find sand to replenish the beaches. Dredging is no longer an option for beaches in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties because the continental shelf is too narrow, and the sand has become too deep to reach. Sand from inland mines is currently hauled in by trucks, but this approach is expensive. Earlier this year, Sen. Marco Rubio introduced a bill known as the SAND Act (Sand Acquisition, Nourishment, and Development) (S. 279) in Congress, which would allow for the purchase of sand from foreign countries to replenish beaches. Currently, this is prohibited by the Water Resources Development Act of 1986 unless sand is not available from domestic sources for environmental or economic reasons. The SAND Act would strike that language in the Water Resources Development Act. Every member of Congress from South Florida has co-sponsored the SAND Act. The bill is currently with the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Click here to read the bill.