An edition of: WaterAtlas.orgPresented By: Sarasota County, USF Water Institute

Water-Related News

Ian hit southwest Florida just as state, feds began spending $$$ on climate resistance

Climate preparedness was in its early stages in southwest Florida, where Ian caused the most damage.

In the days after Hurricane Ian destroyed homes and cut off power in Jennifer Hecker's community near Punta Gorda, Florida, she was rushing to arrange a boat for her staff so they could start testing water for pollution.

Diesel slicks, building debris, raw sewage, industrial chemicals — the remnants of the Category 4 hurricane were choking floodwaters and putting public health at risk.

Hecker is the executive director of the Coastal & Heartland National Estuary Partnership, one of 28 groups around the country that the Environmental Protection Agency set up to protect areas where freshwater meets the ocean and the surrounding wetlands. Hecker's group conducts research to improve water quality and restore estuaries, which are natural buffers against coastal erosion and flooding.

"This hurricane is going to be a turning point for many communities," she told Insider from an office near Sarasota. "We have to become more resilient, because these storms are becoming more severe and more frequent due to changes in our climate."

The state and the Biden administration combined are spending billions to help communities prepare, but those efforts were just getting underway when Ian made landfall last week. Now those working to build up Florida's natural defenses are calling for more urgent action.