Ask engineer Bruce Mowry how much land should be given up to sea-level rise, and he gives a quick answer: “Not one inch.” That answer flies in the face of conventional wisdom and scientific projections, which show oceans increasingly encroaching upon coastal regions, especially flood-prone Miami Beach.

Hired in 2013 as city engineer after former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine (D) took office, Mowry helped to guide one of the nation’s most significant resiliency programs yet enacted. Mowry stepped down from the position in January after Mayor Dan Gelber (D) took office.

Bruce MowryBruce Mowry
Ormond Beach, Fla.
ENR 8/4/17 p. 30
Engineer led enactment of Miami Beach’s program aimed at fortifying the coastal area against flooding caused by rising sea levels.

The roughly $375-million program aims to address the seaside town’s inundation problem by revamping its stormwater runoff system, constructing dozens of stormwater pump stations and raising roads and related infrastructure.

Levine touted the city’s resiliency efforts in advance of hosting last year’s U.S. Conference of Mayors, held in Miami Beach. He characterized local efforts as being “at the forefront of climate-change adaptation and mitigation,” even as scientists predict that South Florida-area sea levels could rise by two to three feet by 2060.

In 2016, Levine recognized Mowry’s leadership by proclaiming July 20 as “Bruce Mowry Day.” The proclamation noted, “For the past three years, Bruce has served at the city of Miami Beach, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. … Bruce Mowry is known for his get-it-done approach, keeping the public-works engineering staff energized and focused on the city’s goals and objectives.”

Mowry, who says he has been called “General Patton” for his hard-line approach, often speaks as if he were rallying the troops into battle when he addresses the challenge of fortifying civic infrastructure. In his mind, Miami Beach—and every other coastal area—is engaged in an existential battle, and the troops are the nation’s engineers.

“We are defending this city at the shoreline,” Mowry told ENR in 2017. “Miami Beach is only one mile wide. If we drop back a mile, we don’t have a city. The only way we’re going to be here 100 years from now is to take on the challenge and know that we’re working on solutions for the long term.”

Mowry maintains that engineers can find solutions to the resiliency challenge. Noting the 11th-hour nature of the engineering task ahead, however, he says, “We need every day.”

Mowry’s ultimate goal is to engineer a change in mind-set. He says, “We need to start deciding it’s part of our culture, that climate change and sea-level rise are real, and [start] designing buildings that meet the conditions of 100 years from now. A lot of people have lost that concept.” 

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