Developer Sues City Over Future Flood Risk Decision


Back in April, the city of Virginia Beach told a developer “no” when they wanted to rezone land to build a subdivision on soggy property that was going to get worse with sea level rise/increased rainfall. This was the first time we could identify a local government decision based on FUTURE flood risk. At the time, we worried that the developer was going to sue the City over this.

Well, it happened. The developer will be in court this week to challenge the decision. They contend that the city, in asking them to account for higher rainfall and sea level rise standards in their designs, is acting outside of local and state regulations. The developer is correct in one respect: Virginia’s laws and regulations are silent on rates of sea level rise and increased rainfall intensity, leaving localities to fend for themselves, as Virginia Beach tried to do.

The City was concerned not only that the subdivision would flood, as other subdivions in the area have, but that the only entrance road will be underwater as well. The developer’s supporters say that it's not the private company's job to raise the road, implying that the taxpayers of Virginia Beach will get stuck with the bill for that work after the developer has built and moved on.

When you’re in a hold, quit digging, as the saying goes. Virginia Beach is tired of being put in a hole.

What Goes Around, Comes Around - Time to Review 2008 Commission on Climate Change Roadmap

 Ten Years On and Much to Do

Ten Years On and Much to Do

In 2008, then-Governor Kaine appointed a Commission on Climate Change to study the impacts of climate change on Virginia and to outline the ways we need to respond. The Commission issued a report that outlined a consensus action plan for Virginia. The Commission's work languished, a subsequent Governor had it removed from the state's website (Wetlands Watch obtained the source code and reconstructed it on our server.) The last Governor convened a Commission to review the situation but little came of that effort.

Now we have a new Governor, Ralph Northam, who was actually a member of the 2008 Commission on Climate Change, and he is very interested in taking on some of these nagging issues. In fact, he was the author of legislation that enacted two of the provisions in the Commission's recommendations on adaptation to sea level rise.

The action agenda from 2008 is ready to go, since the suggested actions do not require legislation. We hope in coming months that some of these provisions will be acted upon as we enter the second decade without a significant statewide response to Sea Level Rise (this in a state that has the highest rate of sea level rise on the Atlantic Coast!)

Planning for Sea Level Rise? Guess Which Projection Works Best.

 If you're seeking guidance on which of these sea level rise projections to use....good luck!

If you're seeking guidance on which of these sea level rise projections to use....good luck!

After years of planning and study, Virginia's coastal localities are starting to implement adaptation strategies and develop resilient infrastructure in the face of the highest sea level rise on the Atlantic Coast. However, as these efforts started moving forward, we noticed a variety of estimates of sea level rise rates being used. Even within the federal government - even within the Department of Defense - there were different estimates being used for different projects in the same city.

We took a little time to document this and sure enough there is a range of projects being designed to different rates of sea level rise. In a region that is so interconnected that is a problem. Not that everyone has to use the same projections for every type of project, but there should at least be some general guidance on how to go about wisely spending taxpayer dollars in these adaptation projects.

The federal government bailed on any attempts at guidance when the Obama-era flood standards were junked just before Hurricane Harvey hit Houston. The state of Virginia has never offered guidance. In fact it does not consider sea level rise in any of the state's infrastructure investments or regulatory programs.

Wetlands Watch wants to change that. Other states and regions offer guidance on rates of sea level rise. We want Virginia to join that effort and are seeing opportunity in the emerging resilience initiative pushed by Governor Ralph Northam. Expect some action on this problem in coming months.

City Says "No" to Development Because of Flood Risk - First of a Kind!

 Road Near Proposed Development - Virginian Pilot/Ron Stubbins photo

Road Near Proposed Development - Virginian Pilot/Ron Stubbins photo

For the first time that we can find, a local government has said "no" to a development proposal due to flood risk. The City of Virginia Beach, hammered by increasing rainfall, has been more sensitive to the flooding potential, especially in the low-lying southern part of the City. But lots of localities are concerned about and planning for flooding, but still allow people to develop in dangerous places.

No more in Virginia Beach. The City Council unanimously denied a proposed 23-home subdivision on a soggy piece of land because of concerns about flood risk and future city liability. Recently burned by the flooding in a recently constructed subdivision, Ashville Park, Virginia Beach Planning Commission and City Council members expressed doubts about this proposal. Even though it met the technical requirements, the access roads flood frequently, flooding will increase, and the city did not want to put more people in harm's way.

This follows on the City's work to document the increased rain flooding risk that is equally important and groundbreaking.

Stay tuned for lawsuits and negotiations, but for now the City of Virginia Beach is the first in the country to say "no" to soggy development proposals.

Rainfall Intensity Increasing the Flooding Threat: Most Localities Left At Risk

 Hurricane Matthew's Downpour in Virginia Beach  (tan/brown areas indicate intensity of rain; blue lines show rainfall accumulation)

Hurricane Matthew's Downpour in Virginia Beach

(tan/brown areas indicate intensity of rain; blue lines show rainfall accumulation)

Snapshot: Stunned by the rainfall flooding from Hurricane Matthew, the City of Virginia Beach contracted for a study on historic and projected rainfall for the City/region. The study verified what many of us have suspected: rainfall is getting more intense. The City is looking to have stormwater practices and subdivision stormwater systems take this new rainfall record into account. While state and federal authorities use decades-old data to set stormwater standards and practices. Virginia Beach would be the first locality in the Nation to build future flood risk from rainfall into its codes and ordinances. Stay tuned for updates on this innovative work!

Background: People in SE Virginia have been commenting that we have been seeing more intense rain in recent years, those down bursts that dump two or three inches of rain in a short period. Sometimes you get caught in them and become trapped in your car and watch the storms spew pollution onto the streets and into the rivers and bays.

The big moment of realization was during Hurricane Matthew when some areas in Southeast Virginia saw more than a foot of rain in 12 hours - displayed on the graph above. Many areas of the region flooded  and many had never flooded before.

In response, the city of Virginia Beach examined rain gauge records and saw a pattern of increasing intensity. They asked the consulting firm, Dewberry, to do a comprehensive study of rainfall patterns and the result was a confirmation of the observation: the number of intense rainfall events is increasing. Combine more rain with the increased tidal flooding we are also experiencing and there are compounding problems.

Now the city is looking at the next steps - including a stormwater ordinance that anticipates the 20% increase in rainfall intensity found in the Dewberry study. This would be the first stormwater ordinance in the country that anticipates a higher rate and intensity of rainfall.

One of the barriers to more cities taking steps to deal with increasing rainfall intensity is Virginia stormwater standards are set to the rainfall estimates contained in the NOAA Atlas 14. This document was last updated in 2006 and is based on rainfall data from decades before that time. The Virginia Beach study looked at more recent set of rainfall data in coming up with its higher rainfall frequency/intensity numbers. While state regulations allow a locality to enact more stringent stormwater standards than those based on NOAA Atlas 14, as Virginia Beach is proposing, they must have data to support such a move. For localities without Virginia Beach's resources, this means they are left using the decades-old rainfall estimates in Atlas 14 to design stormwater management systems and practices.

NOAA needs the resources to update its Atlas 14, especially in areas that have seen these "rain bomb" events - Hampton Roads, Charleston, Houston, etc. Since this is going to take years, the state needs to act now, developing newer rainfall estimates for use by localities so they don't have to do this one-by-one and ask for variances.

(Postscript 7/2018) - There is growing interest to explore the possibility of a cooperative agreement with NOAA to have the state or a group of local governments pay for the update of the NOAA atlas for Virginia. Also, the administration of Governor Ralph Northam is interested in this issue and looking into it.



Study Confirms What We Are Seeing - Nuisance Flooding is Increasing/Will Continue to Increase

 Porjections of flood days per year, from NOAA Study

Porjections of flood days per year, from NOAA Study

SNAPSHOT: A new study from NOAA projects increases in high tide flooding onto streets and sidewalks in shoreline communities. These floods will occur every other day - possibly every day - by 2100 even using very conservative sea level rise estimates. Given the time and money required to mitigate the damage from this constant flooding, we need to start yesterday to put adaptation measures in place.

BACKSTORY: Anecdotally, Wetlands Watch has been hearing for years that tidal water levels seem to be increasing. At community meetings and service club talks, we heard more complaints that tidal waters were lapping over roads and sidewalks and coming up out of stormwater pipes and ditches. We observed changes in rural ditches in Mathews County, ditches that were dry when we started working up there in 2008 and now are full of water most days and have tidal wetlands plants growing in them. We have documented this nuisance flooding in urban areas.

 Projections for Downtown Norfolk, VA by Dr's. Tal Ezer and Larry Atkinson of Old Dominion University.

Projections for Downtown Norfolk, VA by Dr's. Tal Ezer and Larry Atkinson of Old Dominion University.

In the graph above, two oceanographers from Old Dominion University in Virginia developed projections of future nuisance flood risk. The blue in the graph is the observed flooding (hours per year) since the tide gauge at the Norfolk Naval Station was put into service in 1927. The green bars in the graph are the projected flooding hours/year with the current rate of sea level rise. The red bars are the projected flooding hours/year with the accelerated rate of sea level rise we are seeing, about twice the current rate.

Solutions? Start today with detailed maps of where flooding will occur. Take extra precautions to build "freeboard" or additional flood protection into local land use actions or federal investments along the coast. Start developing comprehensive plans among all the stakeholders - public and private - to address the flooding.

Oh, and we need to start stacking up the dollar bills needed to pay for all the work we have to do.

More Community Scale Adaptation Underway

Snapshot: Community level adaptation strategy and design work continues in another Norfolk neighborhood, building on efforts over the past four years. Students meet residents to fashion stormwater and flooding solutions.

BACKSTORY: The Poplar Hall neighborhood in Norfolk is the focus of another community-scale adaptation effort, continuing the partnership between Wetlands Watch, The Elizabeth River Project, University of Virginia's Resilience Capstone students (led by Dr. Phoebe Crisman), and the City of Norfolk. Another waterfront community along the Broad Creek tributary of the Elizabeth River, Poplar Hall was built out in the late 1950's and has stormwater pollution and flooding issues that need fixing.

Working with the community, the Team will come up with some approaches to dealing with the water issues here. As with the work in Ingleside, we hope to develop some grant proposals to put the designs and strategies on the ground.

Nor'easter Exposes More Coastal Risk

Snapshot: Here we go again...strong storm shows we have put houses where they shouldn't be but also shows how much money is at stake and what's aligned against Smart Coastal decisions.

BACKSTORY: The houses being washed away in the photo above (courtesy of Ralph Karl Swenson) are in a place named Peggotty Beach outside of Scituate, MA. The March 2018 nor-easter slammed this area and flooded this sand spit. The second image in the gallery is an overhead view that shows how precariously these houses are placed - on a sand spit between tidal marshes and the open ocean. So when the nor'easter hit, the spit was overwashed, filling the marshes behind the houses which are draining back into the ocean in the first picture .

See that nice house in the center of the first picture? The last picture is the ad for the house on a rental website. The house goes for $9.650/week in season and comes with a housemaker. That's a nice setup that would be hard to walk away from and expensive for government to buy out.

The reality is these houses will sit there until they get knocked down and even then it might not be over. Six flooded rentals in Nags Head were allowed to stay for over four years, through court cases, until the city bought them out. As long as the owner can get nearly $10,000 a week in rental fees, it will be hard to tell people to not build in dangerous places.

Wetlands Watch Study Shows Positive Benefit for CRS Work

We've been working hard to promote the Community Rating System (CRS) along Virginia's tidal floodplains. A program of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), CRS rewards localities that take extra steps to flood-proof their communities by reducing the premiums charged for flood insurance. What gets Wetlands Watch excited is some of the greatest rewards come from preserving opens space in flood plains, open space that has wetlands on it and will offer "retreat" zones for wetlands as sea levels rise.

The problem is that getting into the CRS requires a fair amount of staff work and training in what is a fairly complicated program. These up-front barriers are often cited as reasons that more localities do not participate in the program - only 9% of Virginia localities participate. We know that over time the benefits from participaing in the CRS program are large, but we had not been able to prove it.

Now we can, thanks to the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program that gave us a grant to figure out the costs and benefits of being a part of the CRS. We just finished a report that shows the benefits of being part of the CRS far outweigh the costs of participating.

What Makes Up "King Tide" Flooding in Hampton Roads?


The "King Tides" that we will map on November 5, 2017, are correctly called "Perigean-Spring Tides." These are the highest predicted tides of the year given the alignment of the moon, earth, and sun and happen with the fall full/new moons in SE Virginia (highest at least on paper - but more on that in a minute). We can predict these tides years shown in the chart below.


The tide chart shows our region's normal cycle of two high tides and two low tides a day. And each month we get higher high tides on the full and new moon, also called "spring tides," when the celestial bodies align as shown in the first picture above. However in the fall of each year are the yearly tide cycles that produce the "King Tides," when the celestial alignment occurs and the moon is closest to the earth - at Perigee.

The chart shows a relatively normal high tide in the red circle to the right and the highest perigean tide of the year on our target King Tide mapping day, November 5, in the circle on the left. The numbers are the height of the water above Mean Lower Low Water and, in the example above, the November 5 tide will in theory run about 10 inches higher than normal. With no wind, this would cause minor flooding in the lowest lying parts of our region.

But in our region, the wind plays a major part in our water levels, in addition to the daily, monthly, and yearly tides. Without going into too much geeky detail, we have a very rare shoreline with rivers that run south-to-north. [That shoreline is the southern rim of the largest meteor impact crater in the US, a big bang that happened 56 million years ago!) And these rivers are not white-water rivers with a lot of downhill flow - they are flat estuaries with flows that winds can push around. So, when we get a wind from the north, blowing into the mouths of the rivers, the water starts stacking up. Conversely, when we get a wind from the south, the water flows out into the Chesapeake Bay and our flooding is minimal (though with a south wind Back Bay will start flooding but that is another story).


This means that on top of the daily, monthly, and yearly tide cycles we have to figure in the wind. Here's an example of how that works. In this Weather Underground screen shot from last October look at the line of arrows at the bottom, showing the wind speed and direction.



Starting on October 8 (red circle), the wind shifted out of the N/NE at 20+ miles per hour and started pushing water upstream on our slow-flowing, north facing rivers. Even worse, it kept going for the next few days. This started to cause flooding - as shown in the chart below from the tide gauge at Sewells Point at Naval Station Norfolk. By high tide on the second morning, the tide was 4 feet above mean sea level.


To paraphrase Burt in "Mary Poppins":

"Winds in the [nor]east, mist coming in, / Like somethin' is brewin' and bout to begin. / Can't put me finger on what lies in store, / But I fear what's to happen all happened before. "

Sure enough, this wind from the nor'east produced nuisance flooding across the region. In Norfolk, it looked like this on October 9.

 Colonial Place gets wet (again) on Oct 9 on a sunny day.

Colonial Place gets wet (again) on Oct 9 on a sunny day.

Now we've also got the rain to figure in but we talked about that before.

Right now, for our Nov 5, 2017, King Tide Event, the wind looks to be shifting to the N/NE, meaning we'll probably have some water to measure, although we hope not as much as in the picture above.

Innovative Resilient Zoning Proposal in Norfolk

 Wetlands Watch's land use guru, Ross Weaver, testifies in support of Norfolk's proposed Resilient Zoning proposal.

Wetlands Watch's land use guru, Ross Weaver, testifies in support of Norfolk's proposed Resilient Zoning proposal.

The city of Norfolk is much in the news with its flooding problems. It should also be much in the news about the solutions it is trying to put in place.

Three years ago, Norfolk began a comprehensive rewrite of its 25-year old zoning ordinance. The goal was to develop the most resilient set of city building rules in the country. With the first draft on the table, it seems they are on their way toward that goal. Most of the innovative proposals are contained in a scheme called the "Resilient Quotient," which requires builders to design their projects in a way to collect enough resilient points to get the permit. The bigger the project, the more points needed.

Features that score resilience points include: elevation above surrounding ground levels to provide flood safety, wiring the structure to accept solar/wind generation, using storm proof standards and materials, holding stormwater runoff on site, vegetation standards to provide shading and use native plants, renewable energy/energy efficiency/efficient energy transfer (geothermal, etc.), and a host of other options.

Builders and homeowners can pick and choose their points but they have to have enough total points to move forward. We have not seen anything like this elsewhere.

Seems like Norfolk is getting ready to walk the walk.

Regional Citizen Science Effort Grows - "Measure the Muck" Added

 Measure the Muck logo

Measure the Muck logo

Snapshot: While we're out measuring the extent of the flooding, a team will also be measuring the pollution being washed off the land by that flooding.

Backstory: Southeast Virginia/Hampton Roads is embarking on one of the largest citizen science efforts ever with it's King Tide mapping event. Now, another effort has been added, "Measure the Muck."

This new effort is the brainchild of Dr. Margaret Mulolland of Old Dominion University, who does a lot of work on harmful algal blooms. While most folks here worry about where the water goes when it tops the bank, she wonders what it brings back with it when it recedes. She suspects that these flooding events bring a load of nutrients and bacteria into our rivers and bays, providing the fuel for algal blooms. Controlling this loading would help manage these algal blooms but no one has measured the amount of nutrients and bacteria being washed from the land.

So a group of volunteers will go out on Nov 5 with field kits for collecting water samples around stormwater outfalls that will later be tested (thanks to the Hampton Roads Sanitation District for providing the funding).

Wetlands Watch's interest in this (other than the fact that Dr. Mulholland is our executive director's spouse!) is to explore the co-benefits of nature based solutions to stormwater and flood management. If the areas that flood are also significant sources of pollution, we can better target our efforts and use one dollar to fix two problems.

 Oct 21 Sea Level Rise app test

Oct 21 Sea Level Rise app test

We've got some volunteers signed up for "Measure the Muck," 28 people so far. As shown above, on a sunny Saturday, Oct. 21, a group of Old Dominion University students together with a bunch of Maury High School students tested the app in preparation for the stormwater pollution measurement citizen science effort.


 Measure the Muck sampling crew getting trained as the water seeps underfoot.

Measure the Muck sampling crew getting trained as the water seeps underfoot.

On the day of the flooding event, the Muck teams were assembled and given sampling equipment. The teams of students fanned out across Norfolk along the Layfayette River watershed to take samples from flooded areas.

 Muck team samples flood waters in Norfolk - Maury High School and Old Dominion University Students (and even a 7th grader in the foreground taking the sample!)

Muck team samples flood waters in Norfolk - Maury High School and Old Dominion University Students (and even a 7th grader in the foreground taking the sample!)

While the samples are still being analyzed, early results are showing high levels of pollution. Most of the bacteria samples had concentrations so dense they were beyond the ability of the lab equipment to measure it!

Coming Down from the Hills to Study Sea Level Rise

 David Imburgia from the City of Hampton speaks (and gestures!) to Virginia Tech students working to help on the City's resilience plan.

David Imburgia from the City of Hampton speaks (and gestures!) to Virginia Tech students working to help on the City's resilience plan.

Snapshot: University academic programs are starting to make a difference in adaptation work in Virginia through collaborative partnerships with local governments to solve pressing problems.

Backstory: A group of 28 Virginia Tech students (6 graduate and 22 senior undergrads) from a range of disciplines are working in the city of Hampton to help with their city-wide resilience planning. The effort is part of Wetlands Watch's collaborative resilience laboratory, or "Collaboratory," which seeks to partner Virginia's tidal communities with the State's academic institutions that offer community-based learning opportunities (practicums, capstone courses, place-based learning courses, etc.). The goal is to match need with opportunity to advance adaptation implementation in Virginia. Our major partner in this work is Virginia Sea Grant, which has seven university members in Virginia and is eager to help them find a role to play in addressing coastal Virginia's flooding problems.

The effort grew out of our successful work in the Chesterfield Heights neighborhood in Norfolk in which student teams from Old Dominion University (engineering) and Hampton University (architecture) joined forces using an award from Virginia Sea Grant to design an adaptation plan for that community. Subsequent work with the University of Virginia in the Ingleside neighborhood proved that this approach was useful for both the community and the university students. In both cases the student work resulted in significant implementation grants to the city of Norfolk and its partners.

The Virginia Tech team is led by Geography professor, Dr. Anamaria Bukvic, whose "Climate Change and Social Impact" class was looking for a location on which it could focus its efforts. Wetlands Watch knew of Hampton's work and the significant effort being expended to develop a resilience plan, so we contacted city staff and they quickly found a role for the students to play. Over the course of this semester they will assist in developing approaches for three different communities along Hampton's Chesapeake Bay shoreline.

Wetlands Watch and Virginia Sea Grant are seeking more of these collaborations over the next three years of funding for the Collaboratory. We are also seeking to export this model to other coastal regions.

Wetlands Watch's Work Recognized by Foundation

 L-R: Joe Maroon, Executive Director, Virginia Environmental Endowment; Bob Ake, Board Chair, Wetlands Watch; Skip Stiles, Executive Director, Wetlands Watch; Blair Wimbush, Board Member, Virginia Environmental Endowment.

L-R: Joe Maroon, Executive Director, Virginia Environmental Endowment; Bob Ake, Board Chair, Wetlands Watch; Skip Stiles, Executive Director, Wetlands Watch; Blair Wimbush, Board Member, Virginia Environmental Endowment.

Wetlands Watch was recognized as one of 22 "Partners in Excellence" by the Virginia Environmental Endowment in ceremony at the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond, VA. As part of its 40th Anniversary, VEE recognized its recipient organizations that excelled in a category of activity. Wetlands Watch was one of two groups recognized in the category of "Emerging Issues" for our work on sea level rise and a program to train landscape professionals in the use of nature-based solutions to stormwater and flood management.

VEE was one of the first foundations to fund our sea level rise work, providing support for our study on the private insurance industry as we explored the linkages between insurance and climate change. VEE also provided supporting funding for the Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professional program which is finishing its pilot phase and is 75% on its way to being self-supporting.

The award to Wetlands Watch read:

From its early beginnings as a watchdog on wetland losses in Hampton Roads to its current role as one of the state’s leading climate adaptation and resiliency advocates, Wetlands Watch is representative of small nonprofit organizations whose reputation, expertise, and influence continues to grow in Virginia and beyond. Recent VEE grants have supported its on-the-ground climate change work and its efforts to advance landscape conservation practices to deal with storm water runoff pollution and a Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professional training and credentialing program.

Fall Storms Bring Flooding to SE Virginia

The impact of four feet of flooding on Hampton Boulevard, the major N/S road in west Norfolk. This is one of two roads leading Naval Station Norfok.

Jose and Maria are messing with Southeast Virginia. The video above is Hampton Boulevard in Norfolk, VA during the run up to the high tides on September 19, 2017, from Jose. On Sept 26 and 27 another set of high tides is hitting. At least these "modest" floods help us find all the areas that flood so we can put them on the map.

We are also in the midst of a major regional, crowdsource flood mapping effort around the hugest projected tide on November 5, 2017, the so-called "King Tide" of the year. We've been holding mapping trainings leading up to that event.

During the Jose floods I was out in the water doing some mapping. The images below show a flooded residential neighborhood in Norfolk (left) and the flood mapping I did (right) using the Sea Level Rise phone app. Walking the edge of the flooded zone, I dropped GIS pins every 4-5 feet and got an outline of the flooding., showing the extent of the inundation. The data set can be exported as an .xls or .csv file and transformed into a shape form on a map and used to test inundation models. All of this helps us project where the water will come next time we get +4' of water.

Vehicle Flood Loss Needs a Strategy

 October 2, 2015 Nor'easter Catches Norfolk Motorist

October 2, 2015 Nor'easter Catches Norfolk Motorist

Nearly all the talk on flooding and mitigation involves real estate and property damage. Very rarely is the issue of vehicle damage and loss discussed in flood mitigation planning. Much of that is because there is are federal, state, and local programs dealing with real property flood losses. To be eligible for the federal government National Flood Insurance Program a locality has to have flood plain plans, ordinances, etc. but they mostly deal with real estate protection. Vehicles are privately insured so there is no requirement to develop comprehensive plans to prevent auto losses. However, Hurricane Harvey is showing the extent of those losses, highlighting the need to start dealing with them.

Vehicle losses are largely preventable because, unlike houses, you can move your car to higher ground - or the elevated public garages that most cities open as flood events approach. As long as you don't drive onto flooded sections of road - like the car above - you can protect your car.

Preventing vehicle loss, however, is more complicated and expensive than real estate flood protection. Road inundation information is not comprehensively reported nor is location of auto losses. (We are trying to deal with the road inundation mapping with our smart phone app.)

Elevating low-lying sections of road is expensive and paying for the work falls mostly on state and local government transportation budgets. There is no dedicated transportation flooding adaptation funding anywhere at the state or federal level, so this work competes with regular transportation maintenance projects. Federal funding to address these needs comes AFTER a flood event in the form of disaster relief.

The city of Norfolk, VA spent $1.2 million in 2010 raising one block to fix the flooding in one residential neighborhood. It spent $2.4 million raising a 200 yard stretch of a major downtown road 2 1/2 feet to prevent flooding. Luckily Norfolk has a plan, so that these projects fit into their larger adaptation puzzle. But no city has a comprehensive way of addressing vehicle losses due to flooding.

Auto flood losses are more widespread than house and business flooding, with nearly 50 % of households reporting flood loss citing auto damage/loss, according to a recent study done in Portsmouth, VA. And insurance companies are starting to notice. Just an anecdote but I recently heard from a person whose auto insurance company refused her renewal because her street address showed too many surrounding auto flood losses.

If we're going to get a handle on adaptation costs and needs, we need to start dealing with the auto damage and loss piece of the puzzle.

Landscape Professionals Clean up the Bay


Snapshot: "Nature-based" stormwater practices and conservation landscaping approaches often called "green infrastructure" are being installed throughout the Chesapeake Bay region to manage stormwater runoff, reduce pollution and flooding, and restore habitat. But we won't make much progress until we have a network of consistently trained and motivated sustainable landscape professionals who know how to properly design, build, and maintain these practices, particularly the small-scale practices being installed on private property. The Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professional (CBLP) certification program aims to fill that void as they train and certify hundreds of landscape professionals in the Chesapeake Bay region.

The CBLP has moved from an idea, to a pilot program, to one that will soon have hundreds of certified professionals and be nearly self-supporting, all in just four years! Next step is to continue expanding the program in Maryland, DC, Virginia and Pennsylvania and moving into New York, Delaware, and West Virginia. For a personal account of the training experience, see EPA's Jim Edward's Blog.

Backstory: In 2013, Wetlands Watch produced a study looking at reducing stormwater nutrient pollution on private property. We explored model programs and looked at nature-based solutions on smaller lots and private property, wanting to see if: a) residential stewardship practices like rain gardens, permeable pavements, buffer plantings and conservation landscapes could play a significant role in cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay using private property, and b) stormwater regulations could help drive wetlands and shoreline restoration efforts. In 2014, we partnered with statewide groups and regional experts to hold a two-day collaborative summit: "Protecting Water Quality Through Actions on Urban - Suburban Properties."

The most significant finding from this summit of stakeholders was the need to, "Build an effective and integrated network of powerful water quality and stormwater experts and advocates – or a 'Community of Practice'." If we were advocating for conservation landscaping and wanted "green" stormwater practices on private property to be "counted" in the stormwater regulatory system, we needed professionals able to meet the demand we were creating and overcome the barriers to use and acceptance of these practices. At the end of the summit, we joined forces with several other partners to create a plan and fund our effort to develop a community of practice among landscape professionals.

Our collaboration includes experts and partners in Maryland and Virginia: Chesapeake Conservation Landscaping Council, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VA DGIF) Habitat Partners©, Maryland Cooperative Extension, Maryland Sea Grant, and Wetlands Watch. Our plan: to develop and pilot a financially sustainable, Bay-wide training and certification program and network of consistently trained landscape professionals ready and eager to be better conservation, habitat, and stormwater partners.

Initially funded with grants and matching funds from the Campbell Foundation for the Environment, the Virginia Environmental Endowment, Prince Charitable Trust, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Maryland Sea Grant, VA DGIF, and the District Department of Energy and Environment, the CBLP program is approximately 75% self-funded through fees charged for the training and certification. As we build the CBLP "brand" we want to see the certifications create a market preference for CBLP services and further increase demand for sustainable landscapes and nature-based solutions to our stormwater and flooding problems.

See Jim Edward's blog of his experience with the CBLP training here.

Regional Flood Mapping Event Uses "Sea Level Rise" Phone App


Snapshot: This fall, Hampton Roads will be holding the country's first major flood mapping exercise with commercial media partners. The Wetlands Watch Phone app, Sea Level Rise, will be the tool used in this November 5, 2017, event which we hope to map across the entire SE Virginia region.

Backstory: Every fall, we get higher full and new moon tides - as much as 2 feet higher - because the moon is closer to the earth. These Perigean High Tides are often nicknamed "King Tides" and in low lying regions like ours they cause increased nuisance flooding.

This year, the highest tide happens on November 5, 2017, and we have a unique event planned for that day: a first-ever public, regional flood mapping event using our Sea Level Rise flooding app.  Making this event even more unique is its sponsorship by our two regional newspapers - the Virginian Pilot and the Daily Press - as well as our regional NPR station, WHRO, and a regional commercial TV station, WVEC.

The Sea Level Rise app was developed using a blue moon fund grant in 2014, in partnership with Concursive, a Norfolk-based technology company. The app was further refined with the help of the Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve in New Jersey who supported the development of V 2.0.. 

The two images above preview what can be produced. The image to the left above displays an outline of the flooding we experienced during the September, 2015 King Tide. The mapping was done with our phone app. The app data was exported to our friends at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) to help them with their flooding models. Dr. Derek Loftis at VIMS has been collaborating with us on this work.

The image to the right above shows those same 2015 data points that Dr. Loftis laid on top of a VIMS map showing the expected inundation on November 5, 2017, the highest high tide of 2017. These VIMS maps will help us target our volunteers to map that day. We hope to cover all the cities and counties that make up Hampton Roads.

You can get the full map and storyboard from VIMS/Dr.Loftis HERE.

Stay tuned for more updates - we started with a soft launch on August 14, test events will be held through Sept and Oct, leading up to the November 5 event. For more information from the Virginian Pilot, their event website has info and signup forms.



Sunny Day Flooding - More and More of it

On July 30, 2017, we had a high tide caused by wind from the N/NE. The wind pushed the water about 4.5 feet above mean sea level and unfortunately that is all it takes here in Norfolk, on low-lying streets, to cause flooding. The stretch of road in the video below is Llewellyn Ave. It is known to flood all the time, such frequent flooding that the city has installed "rulers" alongside the road to let you know how deep the water is. Such frequent flooding that the plants in the foreground are wetlands plants.

This was a wetland 100 years ago, was filled in, and now it wants to be - is actually becoming - a wetland again. No wonder when we ask people at public meetings, "How many of you have driven through salt water on the roads in the last year?", most of the hands go up.

The pictures below were taken that same sunny day as I wandered around the city of Norfolk to record the nuisance flooding these events bring. Again, not storms, just wind at the wrong time of the tide cycle...and we get water running onto the street

Climate Change = Intense Rain = More Pollution

Yesterday (July 18, 2017) we had one of those intense rain events we're seeing with increased frequency. My rooftop rain gauge measured 1.8" of rain in two hours. I was out picking up my daughter at track practice when it hit and got stranded - see windshield shot as I was stopped in a flooded intersection. Last week we had another ~2" rain event.

This morning walking my dog, there was sediment in the streets everywhere. It washed into the Elizabeth and Lafayette Rivers here in Norfolk and was like dumping bags of fertilizer into the rivers. My wife, Dr. Margaret Mulholland, is a biological oceanographer studying algal blooms and she said they are already seeing harmful algal blooms due to last week's deluge...yesterday's "rain bomb" will only add to it.

So going forward we need to add climate change/rain intensity to our stormwater management plans. We get ~60" of rain a year here in Norfolk. If we get 120, 1/2" rain events, no problem, the existing stormwater management systems can handle it. We get 30, 2" rain events, the pollution wins.

This increasing intensity was studied by Peter Popmmerenk who is a planner with the City of Virginia Beach's Stormwater Department. He went to the weather record at Norfolk International Airport and...sure enough, he found an increase in 2" rain events since 1950....measured, not projected from someone's model. The relevant diagram is below - click on the image for his full paper.


Just another part of the challenge with flooding/stormwater.