City of Fort Lauderdale : Climate Control in a Coastal City

Tom CullumRachel Carr
Tom Cullum - Regional Director Rachel Carr - Editor
MAIN City of Fort Lauderdale
Highlights
  • Fort Lauderdale has seven miles of beaches, 104 parks, and numerous greenspaces, with an average year-round temperature of 77 degrees Fahrenheit and 3,000 hours of sunshine annually.
  • Recently, the Arbor Day Foundation recognized Fort Lauderdale as a Tree City USA, marking the 45th year this distinction has been achieved.
  • The city is currently developing a plan to support the City Commission’s 2021 goal of achieving net zero for city operations by 2040 and community-wide by 2050.
  • “We continue to strive to be a sustainable government and encourage eco-friendly practices in our community,” says Alan Dodd, Director of Public Works, City of Fort Lauderdale.

Striving to ensure the implementation and maintenance of sustainable practices and the improvement of infrastructure, Alan Dodd, Director of Public Works for the City of Fort Lauderdale, discusses plans and priorities.

CLIMATE CONTROL IN A COASTAL CITY

Florida, the southernmost state in the continental US, not only boasts the mainland’s longest coastline but is also home to the picturesque waterfront city of Fort Lauderdale. 

Known as the Venice of America, with 165 miles of extensive waterways, 50,000 registered yachts, and 100 marinas, it is no wonder Fort Lauderdale is the world’s yachting capital and hosts the largest boat show globally.  

Located just 30 miles north of Miami along the Atlantic Ocean, the city is the third-most populous in the metropolitan area, with 182,000 citizens.  

Widely recognized as a popular tourism destination with a strong hospitality industry, Fort Lauderdale’s economy diversifies into marine, manufacturing, finance, insurance, real estate, high technology, avionics and aerospace, and film and television production. 

The city has seven miles of beaches, 104 parks, and numerous greenspaces, with an average year-round temperature of 77 degrees Fahrenheit and 3,000 hours of sunshine annually. 

The gateway to the Everglades, the Greater Fort Lauderdale area, encompassing Broward County, hosts more than 13 million overnight visitors yearly.  

Additionally, nearly four million cruise passengers pass through Port Everglades per annum, making Fort Lauderdale the third-largest cruise port in the world, whilst the city also caters to sports enthusiasts with its recently developed facilities.  

“In the past few years, the city has been a growing center for sports with the new world-class Aquatic Center, the Florida Panthers’ new IcePlex practice arena, the Chase Stadium that is home to Lionel Messi and Inter Miami, The Fort pickleball stadium, and the latest multimillion-dollar investment – the Jimmy Evert Tennis Center,” introduces Alan Dodd, Director of Public Works for the City of Fort Lauderdale.

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A CLEANER AND GREENER URBAN ENVIRONMENT

The Public Works Sustainability Division is diverse and includes fleet services, solid waste and recycling, environmental and regulatory affairs, stormwater operations, and sustainability and climate resilience. 

Acutely aware of the need to maintain a green and eco-friendly city, the City of Fort Lauderdale’s environmental programs embrace the fundamental principles of sustainability. Indeed, its Urban Forestry Master Plan (UFMP) has many environmental and social objectives, including being aesthetically pleasing.  

“While our urban forest provides 26 percent canopy, we are initiating UFMP to strategically plant new trees to reach a goal of 33 percent canopy by 2040. It will consider how climate change will impact which trees we can plant, Fort Lauderdale’s location in a migratory bird flyway, and the desire to provide greater shade for a more walkable and cooler community,” Dodd explains.  

Recently, the Arbor Day Foundation recognized Fort Lauderdale as a Tree City USA, marking the 45th year this distinction has been achieved.  

“We have been able to benchmark our accomplishments against state and national rating systems.”  

The City of Fort Lauderdale has achieved the LEED for Cities Gold certification as designated by the US Green Building Council (USGBC) and been certified as a Florida Green Local Government by the Florida Green Building Coalition (FGCB).  

“Our fleet is consistently ranked in the top 50 green fleets in North America. We continue to strive to be a sustainable government and encourage eco-friendly practices in our community,” Dodd prides.  

“We continue to strive to be a sustainable government and encourage eco-friendly practices in our community”

Alan Dodd, Director of Public Works, City of Fort Lauderdale
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COMBATING CLIMATE CHANGE

Fort Lauderdale’s position at the epicenter of climate change impacts is reflected in the initiatives implemented by the city’s Public Works Department. 

“We have seen close to a 200 percent rise in the number of days where temperatures exceed 90 degrees since 1970, therefore increasing the risk for the elderly and other groups that are most vulnerable to heat-related illnesses,” informs Dodd. 

With 300 miles of coastline along its waterways, Fort Lauderdale is particularly exposed to rising sea levels as extreme high tides overtop seawalls and flood low-lying roadways. Rising seas also elevate the groundwater table, reducing the ability of rainfall to seep naturally into the ground.  

“We are now experiencing heavier and more intense rainstorms, including microbursts, that quickly overwhelm drainage systems and cause short-term flooding. Our infrastructure was largely built in the 1960s and 1970s and wasn’t designed for these conditions; we must, therefore, adapt existing systems sooner rather than later to meet the demands of tomorrow,” he observes.  

To meet this challenge, the City of Fort Lauderdale has initiated a vulnerability assessment to determine risks and propose options to mitigate impacts, including capital improvements, back-up generators, redundant systems, and contingency plans.  

“We are updating master plans and designing new water, stormwater, and other infrastructure to incorporate newer standards that address future conditions and ensure more resilience to mitigate the risks of climate change. We’re also working with the Urban Land Institute to develop road elevation criteria for decision-making, completing a flooding vulnerability study, and starting a net zero planning process,” Dodd affirms.

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IMPROVING EFFICIENCY

The adoption of a net zero policy aligns the City of Fort Lauderdale with many leading cities across the globe that have signed up for campaigns such as ICLEI 150 Race to Zero, Florida Race to Zero, and Ready for 100.  

The city is currently engaged in developing a plan to support the City Commission’s 2021 goal of achieving net zero for city operations by 2040 and community-wide by 2050.  

“Our city’s leadership understands that climate change impacts, especially rising sea levels and extreme rainfall, will continue to increase without significant reductions in carbon emissions,” reports Dodd.  

Already piloting different electric vehicles (EVs), the city is expanding its charging infrastructure to serve its fleet and exploring efficient renewable energy generation opportunities.  

“Once the net zero plan is finalized, implementation to meet our 2040 goal can move forward strategically. Port Everglades is under the jurisdiction of Broward County, and they have pursued several improvements in the terminals and cargo ports to reduce fuel use, limit greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and improve energy efficiency,” he details.  

Furthermore, the city has included energy and water efficiency in designing the new Public Safety Building and park improvements.  

“Where feasible, we incorporate renewables as part of these designs; most recently, we approved the construction of a solar array at Warfield Park. 

“Solar power appears in other unusual applications, such as street lighting and parking meters. We have pursued variable speed pumps at aquatic facilities and wastewater lift stations to reduce energy consumption,” Dodd reveals.  

As Fort Lauderdale is substantially built out and has a high-water table, opportunities for green infrastructure are limited.  

The city’s 9.1-acre River Oaks Stormwater Preserve combines a reconstructed wetland with functions to improve the ability to manage the quality and quantity of stormwater and provide a natural habitat.

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COMMUNITIES AND THE CITY

Fort Lauderdale’s City Commission has prioritized infrastructure and resilience, providing close to $1.6 billion for capital improvement projects since 2018.  

These investments have increased infrastructure resilience and capacity, as miles of aging pipes have been replaced, roads and damaged sidewalks have been paved, seawalls have been raised, and new stormwater systems have been constructed.   

“In 2023, we entered into a public-private partnership to construct the Prospect Lake Clean Water Center, replacing the 70-year-old Fiveash Water Treatment Plant,” Dodd discloses.  

The new $485 million plant, which is currently under construction and designed to withstand Category 5 hurricanes, will use modern nanofiltration and ion exchange technology to eliminate watercolor issues and remove per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).  

“To integrate the plant into our water system, we will invest an additional $181 million to upgrade the distribution network, wellfields, and storage capacity. It will produce up to 50 million gallons per day when operations begin in 2026.” 

Fortify Lauderdale, meanwhile, is a $500 million program to accelerate stormwater improvements and protect the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods from flooding and climate change-associated risks. It was developed following an unprecedented weather event in April 2023 when the city received 26 inches of rainfall in 12 hours, flooding several areas. 

“Recognizing the need to accelerate efforts to protect residents from future flooding, the program will provide advanced stormwater systems in 17 vulnerable neighborhoods, involving extensive collection systems, pump stations, higher seawalls, one-way tidal valves in outfalls, and pollution control devices,” Dodd assures.  

The work is being completed on an expedited timeline, with all construction to be finalized within 10 years. 

“We are also designing a living seawall as part of a retrofit for the city’s signature downtown riverwalk. The city already provides several curbside residential programs to collect yard waste for composting, on-demand recycling of electronics, and a weekly cart service for traditional recyclables,” he explains.  

Furthermore, to bolster its sustainability efforts, the City of Fort Lauderdale’s Take5 program educates residents on the correct items eligible for recycling. 

The Take5 program conducts audits to reduce contamination and educate the public on what five items belong in the recycling cart. The City Commission is also interested in pursuing a policy that mandates recycling for commercial properties.

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FORTIFYING THE FUTURE

Like many other municipalities, Fort Lauderdale is a growing city with aging pipes and infrastructure that were not designed for current demand or environmental conditions. 

Over the past five years, the city, its residents, and elected officials have developed a better understanding of the condition of its systems and the need to replace and upgrade the current infrastructure.  

“This has led to a willingness to increase water, sewer, and stormwater rates, providing greater funding for these critical programs and allowing us to replace close to 40 miles of pipes, construct 15 miles of new systems, replace and upgrade several pump stations, and begin construction of a new water treatment plant.  

“Over the past year, we awarded contracts for two large neighborhood-wide stormwater improvement projects and will award three more in the upcoming year, along with completing modeling and initial designs for all neighborhoods in the Fortify Lauderdale program,” details Dodd. 

Moreover, efforts to reduce inflow and infiltration in the system will be accelerated to create more capacity at the city’s wastewater treatment plant and replace older, high-risk water and wastewater pipes.  

“We completed our first utility underground project this year that reduces the risk of power outages during hurricanes and will expand the program to other neighborhoods. Beyond the capital projects we have planned, we will grow the number of project managers in our Engineering Division and increase our operational staff to improve our ability to maintain and repair systems,” he concludes. 

Residents are already experiencing a significant reduction in pipe breaks and failures, enhancements to stormwater systems, and improved service from the Public Works Department.  

However, the job is not yet finished, and plans for the subsequent year are in place as efforts to modernize Fort Lauderdale’s systems continue unabated.

CITY OF FORT LAUDERDALE PARTNER

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By Tom Cullum Regional Director
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By Rachel Carr Editor
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Rachel Carr is an in-house writer for North America Outlook Magazine, where she is responsible for interviewing corporate executives and crafting original features for the magazine, corporate brochures, and the digital platform.