Another Neighborhood Adaptation Design - With Stormwater Managment Included!

We've been working in partnership with academia to start putting together adaptation approaches on a community-scale. We found in our past work that "big picture" adaptation efforts don't work unless they are "fitted" into the community. So we got together with a University of Virginia resilience capstone class and the Elizabeth River Project to work in the Igleside Neighborhood of Norfolk, VA to see how we might control flooding AND stormwater pollution.

The final report is out for this semester-long collaboration. We have submitted a grant proposal to fund the work outlined by the students and also are partnering with the Elizabeth River Project to do adaptation designs on other neighborhoods along the Broad Creek tributary in Norfolk.

On to other projects for our collaborative sea level rise adaptation laboratory - or "Collaboratory" that we are running in partnership with Virginia Sea Grant.

Finanical Sector Takes Coastal Risks Seriously.....NOT!

Waves break around a destroyed roller coaster in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, on Nov. 16, 2012. Photographer: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Waves break around a destroyed roller coaster in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, on Nov. 16, 2012. Photographer: Mario Tama/Getty Images

An interesting article from Bloomberg about the reality in the finance sector regarding their perception of risk from sea level rise. We hear lots about the insurance and bond underwriting sectors taking these risks seriously. We hear people say that the financial sector will begin to withdraw from risky coastal regions.

The reality..?

From the article: " When asked by Bloomberg, none of the big three bond raters could cite an example of climate risk affecting the rating of a city’s bonds."

And the sea level rise risk on the Jersey Shore, recently decimated by "superstorm" Sandy? -  "'It didn’t come up, which says to me they’re not concerned about it,' says John Bartlett, the Ocean County representative who negotiated with the rating companies. Both gave the bonds a perfect triple-A rating."

One interesting note is that Moody's has been nosing around the Hampton Roads region, asking localities what they are doing about sea level rise.  See a sample response from the City of Virginia Beach.

Coastal Communities Hook Up to Address Sea Level Rise

Charleston, SC Mayor John Tecklenburg came to the Hampton Roads/Charleston knowledge exchange Friday, June 16, in Charleston to urge action on flooding and Sea Level Rise. The exchange was set up by theCharleston Resilience Network to have the two flood-prone regions share ideas and approaches to deal with the nuisance flooding and sea level rise impacts.

Supported by the Carolinas Integrated Sciences and Applications (CISA) program (funded by NOAA), the meeting was the start of what the participants hoped would be a continuing exchange that could expand to include other coastal communities at risk.

Wetlands Watch was proud to have been included to speak to the role of nonprofit partners in the adaptation process. Thank you Charleston, thanks to the Charleston Resilience Network and to CISA and NOAA. This will make our work much more productive if we can share successes and approaches.

Adaptation Guide Wins Planning Award!

Our work on sea level rise adaptation in Virginia has us working closely with local governments, since they are the only people who can determine the use/development of shoreline private property. In the absence of state and local leadership on adaptation, shoreline communities are left on their own to figure out what to do and to determine if they have the authority to do it.

In this vacuum, clever local staff are doing some creative things and coming up with "workarounds" on existing legal authorities. Wetlands Watch wanted to put this in one place and make it available to everyone in tidewater Virginia: possible adaptation authorities, examples of clever "workarounds," flood insurance cost consequences, etc. We interviewed over 70 local government staff in the process, to find out what they needed/wanted and in what format.

What resulted was our "Sea Level Rise Adaptation Guide" which we finished a few months ago and have been promoting on line and in person. We thought it was pretty neat but that was really affirmed when we found out the Virginia Chapter of the American Planning Association had selected the Guide for its 2017 Nelsonite Award, Planning Advocate of the Year.

We contiue to update and revise the guide - newest effort is adding stormwater regulatory credit information for nature-based solutions, with final products due late 2017.


Even If You Pay Them to Go, They'll Stay At the Shore

$23 million Steel Wall in NJ  (Katrina d'Autremont-Bloomberg)

$23 million Steel Wall in NJ (Katrina d'Autremont-Bloomberg)

Very interesting article about how the post-Sandy fund designed to buy people out in vulnerable areas is not working. More emphasis on armoring and staying in place instead. This is disturbing since efforts are being made to generate funding - such as Virginia's Shoreline Resiliency Fund - but these funds may not do what we want if folks don't want to move.

Flood Insurance Changes - Great Article on Impacts

Adaptation Choices in Norfolk (l to r) - raise, wait, rebuild  (photo NYT - Benjamin Lowy)

Adaptation Choices in Norfolk (l to r) - raise, wait, rebuild (photo NYT - Benjamin Lowy)

New York Times Magazine takes a look at the issue of flood insurance and its impacts, implications, and responses in Norfolk, VA. Great article by Brooke Jarvis - makes a complicated issue understandable and human.

This is just the start of the changes in coastal communities as risk - both present and future risk - gets priced into the economy. Resilience now means more than dealing with physical protection and environmental improvement. We have to deal with the economic consequences of the changes that we are seeing if we are to really become resilient.

More Action on Alternative Coastal Funding

With all the talk of budget cuts in Washington, including cuts to FEMA disaster programs, states and localities along the shore need to find new ways of dealing with essential flooding fixes. We documented the need for new revenue streams a few years ago in our report on the backlog in flooding mitigation funding. We found that in one Virginia city, if you were at ten end of the waiting list, you'd wait 188 years for someone to get around to helping you fix your house.

We worked with State Senator Lynwood Lewis who sponsored legislation to create a state revolving loan fund for property owners to use. It was patterned after a similar fund in Connecticut, ShoreUP CT. The Virginia Shoreline Resiliency Fund became law in 2016 but there was no funding made available. Next step is to get funding for the revolving loan fund.

Now another state - Rhode Island - is considering this approach to funding coastal protection. Legislation introduced there would create the "Rhode Island Coastal Adaptation Trust Fund," to provide money to fix coastal infrastructure at risk from sea level rise and flooding. That Fund would get money from a 5 cent/barrel surcharge on petroleum products.

We will be watching that legislation in coming months as all of us along America's coastline struggle to adapt.

San Francisco Resilient by Design Challenge

The San Francisco Bay area climate change adaptation effort is getting a big boost thanks to a $4.6 million Rockefeller Foundation grant underwriting a design competition: Resilient By Design: Bay Area Challenge. This work follows on a 2009 design effort in the region, Rising Tides, which was the inspiration for Wetlands Watch's adaptation design efforts.

This could be a great step forward, coming as it does before the problem gets acute. We in other soggy regions will be watching this design work with interest.

Building Public Investments to Last

In 2015, President Obama proposed a new Federal Flood Risk Standard for federal infrastructure investments and other major federal actions. The proposal was to add an additional margin of safety to these federal actions - from the current protection against a flood event with a 1% chance of happening (100-year flood), to protections against stronger storms floods that have only a .2% chance of happening (500-year flood event).

The proposal also allowed agencies to use a climate-based standard, so if local or regional projections were for greater flooding/storm intensity/sea level rise, you could add additional protections. But at a minimum, the 500-year event was the safety level used.

The standard is now under review by the new administration and many of us who support the higher standard are pushing to keep it in place. With plans for a major federal infrastructure push early in this Administration, it is more important than ever that this proposal be kept.

(Postscript: President Trump rescinded this executive order with one of his own on August 15, 2018, just ten days before Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston, flooding many areas outside of today's flood plain that would have been covered by the Obama executive order.)

Working Into the Night, Miles from Home, on Flooding Fixes

Presentation in Gloucester County

Presentation in Gloucester County

Wetlands Watch found out years ago that implementing sea level rise and flooding adaptation was a retail operation - working one-on-one with local governments, talking to small groups of citizen stakeholders, like those in attendance at a public meeting in Gloucester County (pictured above), and helping make the changes needed to promote resilience in at-risk communities.

March 1, 2017, found our staffer, Mary-Carson Stiff, working into the evening, 50 miles from home, meeting with folks in Gloucester, VA to explain flood insurance and the Community Rating System (CRS). Organized by the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), the state agency that manages the floodplain programs in Virginia, the workshop "CRS Benefits & Flood Insurance Rate Reductions" drew a crowd of 30 interested citizens and local government staff from the Middle Peninsula on a stormy work week evening. DCR, Wetlands Watch, and Gloucester County's floodplain management program and citizen-lead Floodplain Management Committee presented to the group. The meeting celebrated Gloucester County's improved CRS class rating of 6, earning policyholders 20% premium reductions each year. If you'd like a copy of the presentations, email

Wetlands Watch's Mary-Carson, or "M-C" as she is known, is a Certified Floodplain Manager (CFM), an expert on FEMA programs, Chair of the Coastal VA CRS Workgroup, and serves on the Board of the Virginia Floodplain Managers Association (VFMA). A graduate of William & Mary Law School and in the first class of the Virginia Coastal Policy Center, she leads our organization's Floodplain Management Program, notably promoting reforms of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to incentivize open space protection and habitat creation in localities' floodplains.  

When we discovered that the CRS program rewards higher levels of flood protection by reducing the cost of flood insurance, we started to work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and DCR to expand the CRS program in coastal Virginia.

First we developed a local government guide to the CRS. Then we started meeting with local governments and their citizens to gain support for the CRS and for the green infrastructure approaches we want - wetlands & open space in the floodplains earn the largest reductions in premiums. We work in the CRS program because it saves money and shorelines in our communities. 

Thanks to our supporters at the blue moon fund, Campbell Foundation, West Wind, and others, we are able to work with local governments and their constituents as they tackle this complicated FEMA program, walking obscure regulatory language into the real world decisions facing coastal communities.

As Risk Gets Priced into Shoreline Property, Prices Fall

A story in the Daily Press looks at real estate assessments in Hampton, VA and finds declining value for waterfront property. What we have been hearing anecdotally is starting to take shape. We hear complaints about properties in known flooding areas languishing on the market, about pressure to drop home prices in flood zones to get them to move, about people taking all sorts of steps to lower flood insurance costs.

As assessments come out in other localities in Southeast Virginia, it will be interesting to see if there is a larger trend coming.

Adaptation and Water Quality Designs in Norfolk Neighborhood

The "Team" had its first meeting in Ingleside on Jan. 28. = the "Team" is the citizens of Ingleside, Wetlands Watch, Elizabeth River Project, Green Building Council of Hampton Roads, Virginia Sea Grant, the City of Norfolk and (most importantly) a group of energetic students from the University of Virginia. The students are involved in the University's Resiliency effort and are led by Dr. Phoebe Crisman. Also down from UVA were Dr. Ellen Bassett and Dr. Mark White.

We spent the afternoon in the Ingleside Church hearing from residents about their experiences with flooding and stormwater pollution and their desires for the neighborhood. Student teams recorded detailed observations about the community - including marking up maps on the wall. The students and professors will go back to Charlottesville and set to work and return in March to brief the rest of the Team about their initial designs.

This work follows on the earlier adaptation design work done in Chesterfield Heights by Hampton University and Old Dominion University students assisted by Wetlands Watch, Elizabeth River Project, and the Green Building Council of Hampton Roads - and funded by Virginia Sea Grant. That work resulted in a major grant to the city of Norfolk to implement those designs.

Student Adaptation Designs Bring Big Rewards

Wetlands Watch has been working on sea level rise adaptation for over a decade. We worried that no one had developed nature-based designs at a community scale that could be installed before a storm hits. With collaboration and funding from Virginia Sea Grant, in 2014 we asked the Hampton University Architecture Department and the Old Dominion University Civil/Environmental Engineering Department if they wanted to work on these designs - they said YES!. We also asked the Hampton Roads Green Building Council to provide professional mentoring and assistance.

We selected the community of Chesterfield Heights in Norfolk, VA, a community of 500+ houses along the Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River, just starting to experience flooding. The students interviewed residents and conducted community tours and listening sessions. They dug for old records (Chesterfield Heights is an Historic District, having been built out around 1900 - 1920) and information on infrastructure, soils, etc.

They worked together - engineers and architects - to solve the flooding problems with the parameters we gave them: designs had to maintain or expand ecosystem services. They developed an intricate, distributed system of solutions that in model runs showed a 90% reduction in flooding and major reductions in stormwater pollution. A report on their work can be downloaded HERE.

This work was presented to Norfolk city staff, who recommended its inclusion in a 4-day international design effort, "Life at Sea Level: Dutch Dialogues Virginia." These designs were then packaged as a proposal to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development's "National Disaster Resilience Competition." a post - Hurricane Sandy design effort, coordinated by the Rockefeller Foundation.

In January 2016 the winners were announced and the student-based designs for Chesterfield Heights were awarded a $120 million grant for implementation. An amazing arc of success for these students, their universities, and the regional effort at resilience. We will be continuing this work with a generous grant from the Adiuvans Foundation, hoping to develop a community of practice in this region that can serve as a national resource as we seek solutions to sea level rise flooding.


Flood Protection, Environmental Quality, and Fiscal Savings - How to Get Them All in Your Community

Flood Levels Recorded and House Elevated Above Them in Background

Flood Levels Recorded and House Elevated Above Them in Background

We just released a new study on how communities can take extra steps to deal with flooding/sea level rise, reduce their flood insurance costs, and - just maybe - increase open space and shoreline habitat!

Wetlands Watch is always looking for leverage to increase shoreline resiliency. Sea Level Rise is taking its toll and we need every tool we have to keep ahead.

With premiums increasing for the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) we looked for ways to help communities support flood proofing and habitat protection at the same time. The NFIP rewards communities for taking flood protection steps above the minimum - uses the Community Rating System to evaluate floodproofing and award points toward reduced premium costs.

Trouble is the CRS evaluation is hard to map onto the wide range of options and actions that local governments take - so we did the research and produced this study. We also took a special look at environmental solutions to the flooding problems - don't want to just put up concrete walls. AND we looked at how local governments can take credit for NFIP premium reductions for things they are doing to reduce storm water pollution.