The major employment sectors in Punta Gorda center around the City?s prized natural resource, Charlotte Harbor, with tourism employing 1 out of every 5 people in the workforce.
Local resources the community depends on, and for what purpose:
The most important resource to the community is Charlotte Harbor. It encompasses 270 square miles with 219 linear miles of natural shoreline and is highly significant to Florida as a nursery ground for marine and estuarine species.
Local threats to resources:
In recent years, water pollution largely from non-point sources associated with agriculture and development activities have posed an increasing threat to the health of the estuary and threatened the tourism economy of the area.
The Community is concerned with a number of climate hazards and during a series of public workshops in 2009 the citizens of the City of Punta Gorda identified 54 vulnerabilities they associated with climate change that threatened the local quality of life and economic viability of the area. These vulnerabilities were combined into 8 major areas of climate change vulnerability for the city including, in order of priority: 1. Fish and Wildlife Habitat Degradation 2. Inadequate Water Supply 3. Flooding (including Sea Level Rise) 4. Unchecked or Unmanaged Growth 5. Water Quality Degradation 6. Education and Economy and Lack of Funds 7. Fire 8. Availability of Insurance.
Level of exposure to these hazards:
There is a high level of exposure to these hazards. Over the years, dredge-and-fill operations have reduced about 25 percent of the mangrove habitat in the Charlotte Harbor Area. In addition to direct loss, urban and agricultural runoff changes water flows and sea level rise will further interfere with the beneficial functions performed by the remaining mangrove systems as well as sea grasses, salt marshes and other habitats. The high cost of developing mangrove habitat is ultimately paid by taxpayers in terms of flood damage, shoreline erosion and water quality corrections. A strategy identified for implementation is the development of "habitat migration zones" (Jim Beever, SWFRPC 2013). These zones would provide areas where sea grasses, mangroves, saltmarsh, and other critical habitats will be able migrate inland as sea level rises. Areas which will retain natural shorelines explicitly indicated in local master plans, (Comprehensive Plans), was the most popular adaptation measure proposed to address flooding impacts due to climate change in the City of Punta Gorda. This adaptation strategy was also identified in the City of Punta Gorda?s Evaluation and Appraisal Report (EAR) review of the Comprehensive Plan and is being incorporated into rewriting of the Coastal Management Element of the City?s Comprehensive Plan.
Level of sensitivity:
The development of "habitat migration zones" is intended to reduce infrastructure exposure to several flooding hazards including short-term, intense rain storms, tropical and hurricane storm surge flooding, and long term inundation from a rising sea level, by decreasing the amount of variable risk the City would experience in regard to disaster recovery and costs of clean up. In undeveloped areas, this practice will maintain existing habitats and increase habitat for fish and wildlife, enhancing sport and commercial fisheries and other recreational and conservation uses. Other hazards and level of sensitivity include: Habitat and Species Changes ? Regional increase or decrease of wetlands due to changes in precipitation ? Conversion of wetlands to open water ? Decreased animal health affected by increased air temperatures ? Northward relocation of ecosystems ? Migration of low marsh into high marsh ? Loss of wetlands due to retreating shorelines ? Migration/depletion of seagrass beds due to sea level rise ? Changes in wetlands due to sea level rise ? Spread of invasive native species ? Spread of invasive non-native species ? Decreased biodiversity due to increased temperatures ? Changes in aquatic food webs ? Major faunal range shifts Sea Level Rise ? More rapid sea level rise than previously predicted ? Alteration of hydrology, water quality and habitats in wetlands ? Erosion caused by sea level rise ? Geomorphologic, hydrological and water quality changes at coasts ? Sea level rise resulting from increased temperature and expansion of water volume ? Sea level rise resulting from the melting arctic ice sheet ? Higher high tides ? Larger wind driven waves in deeper estuaries Human Economy ? Ecosystem services affected by changes in estuarine water quality ? Increased threats to coastal potable water supplies ? Reduction in ecosystem services due to adaptations to climate change ? Economic consequences for ? commercial fisheries, ? sports fisheries, ? coastal tourism, ? coastal development, ? transportation development, and ? critical facilities. Land Use Changes ? Human habitation pushed inland due to sea level rise ? Reduction in the amount of land available for conservation due to sea level rise
Level of adaptive capacity:
The City?s ability to cope with or recover from these impacts to our natural resource will depend on the strategies the City puts in place. It is important to address these issues in manageable incremental steps as we move forward. The City must provide take these incremental steps in a way that make sense for now financially and buys time moving forward; protecting our infrastructure; increasing the economic sustainability of businesses and maintains or improves the quality of life for our residents. Undertaking of such a huge task is overwhelming and costly. Therefore the City is implementing adaptations in incremental steps over time that will assess the vulnerability, summarize the considerations, set priorities, select the action, implement the plan and monitor the results. The update of the City?s Comprehensive Plan includes a section within the Conservation Element that was worked on by University of Florida Law Clinic students providing information on our waterfront development and provided sustainability policies. Objective 2.4.2 states that the City will: Address the impact of sea level rise, and seek strategies to combat its effects on the shoreline of the City. The subsequent policy reads: The City will work with the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council to determine potential sea level rise impacts on the Coastal Planning Area. These type of positive strategies helps the City develop strategies and plans for future conditions. With climate change, higher, stronger coastal storm surges will reach farther inland. This may lead to saltwater intrusion in zones not tolerant of higher salinity, causing plant and animal mortality and contamination of surface and aquifer drinking water supplies. The higher waves, wave action, and hydrodynamic pressure will lead to more extensive flooding. A 20 to 25% increase in the 100-year floodplain area is expected. Salt deposition from such surges and flooding can lead to physical and chemical destruction of habitats and infrastructure. Larger floating debris and increased beach erosion will have negative impacts on human infrastructure. Shorter storm evacuation time windows prior to storms may also be expected (USCCSP 2008; Fiedler et al. 2001; Peterson et al. 2007; USNOAA 2008; USEPA CRE 2008). (Vulnerability Assessment p 61). Increases in sea level will increase shoreline erosion. Barrier islands are expected to continue to erode and migrate towards the mainland or along prevailing lateral pathways (FOCC 2009), which could eventually threaten the ecological integrity of natural communities in estuaries, tidal wetlands, and tidal rivers (FOCC 2009). As sea levels rise, shallow coastal aquifers and associated public drinking water supplies are at risk from saltwater intrusion (FOCC 2009). Sea level rise will also exacerbate many other effects of climate change. For example, coastal shorelines, beaches, mangroves, low marsh, river and creek shorelines will experience higher tides including higher high tides, higher normal tides, and higher low tides (Titus 1998; USEPA CRE 2008; Folland & Karl 2001; IPCC 2001c). The City will cope with the loss of habitat and inundation with sea level rise through careful planning to conduct proper comprehensive shoreline assessments to determine the unique characteristics of the specific shoreline. As part of this exercise, a suitability analyses to determine which lands should be armored or where shoreline managed relocation should be allowed will be conducted. Hazard projections will be utilized to determine the areas first in line to be inundated based on erosion, sea level rise, and storm surge estimates. Shoreline managed relocation could be implemented through the use of rolling easements or similar policies. Rolling easements are a special type of easement purchased from property owners along the shoreline to prevent them from holding back the sea but which allow any other type of use and activity on the land. As the sea advances, the easement automatically moves or "rolls" landward. Because shoreline stabilization structures cannot be erected, sediment transport remains undisturbed and wetlands and other important tidal habitat can migrate naturally. Similarly, there will always be dry or intertidal land for the public to walk along, preserving lateral public access to the shore. This step does not need to be implemented all at the same time and easements could be acquired in order of priority related to level and timing of exposure to coastal flooding. Furthermore, the City should designate a special overlay district in areas likely to be inundated based on hazard projections. Unique design guidelines should be implemented in these areas. Public financing in these areas should be minimized, particularly for new infrastructure. Within this area likely to be inundated, the City should create an along-shore buffer or easement for ecosystem retreat, management, and restoration. Property purchases, purchase of development rights, setbacks or deed restrictions, development disincentives, and sale incentives are some ways to create this easement. The City will need to plan for removal of inundated structures, infrastructure, and identify strategies for mitigation of hazards related to inundated structures. Creative reuse will be essential; for example, the reuse of building foundations as marine habitat could be appropriate. Finally, the City will need to continue to integrate good waterfront design principles, and adapt existing useable infrastructure for new evolving waterfront. Communities that allow managed relocation must realize that the waterfront will be constantly evolving, and must allow for this change within land-use plans and waterfront projects An example of this is the ?Old Style Development? Low ground floor elevation. Development used vertical bulk heads with typically no vegetative buffer, limited or no stormwater treatment resulting in limited habitat value except where mangroves were retained. Under the City?s new land development codes there is a higher ground floor elevation requiring a living shore with sloped shorelines. This allows for substantial vegetative buffers with emergent wetlands and litorral shelves which provide for modern stormwater treatments resulting in a net gain for fish and wildlife habitat.