adaptation actions

Smart Phone Flood Mapping Takes Next Steps

Second Year of Crowdsourcing Flooding Data

Second Year of Crowdsourcing Flooding Data

SNAPSHOT: In 2017, Wetlands Watch and its partners held a regional event to crowdsource flooding information, using the highest projected tide of the year (the so-called King Tide) as day of the event. We did it again in 2018 with new partners and an expanded focus. Now we are running the mapping year around, with neighborhood teams being organized across Southeast Virginia.

BACKSTORY: In 2014 we developed a smart phone app that allowed people to map where it flooded in their community allowing them to take an active role in adaptation and flooding solutions. The app, “Sea Level Rise,” caught the attention of the environmental reporter for the Virginian Pilot, Dave Mayfield, who convinced his editors to sponsor a regional crowdsourcing event to collect flooding data around the “King Tide,” the highest of the fall perigean tides. The event was a success with over 700 mappers out mapping at the same time! So many in fact that we have applied for a Guinness World Record designation.

So we did it again in 2018, this time with new partners at WHRO, the regional NPR affiliate. They developed lesson plans that meet state standards and received a grant to enroll over 120 high school classes in a year-long mapping effort. The 2017 effort brought out over 400 mappers, many of whom wanted to continue to map outside of the King Tide event.

This is music to the ears of Dr. Derek Loftis, a researcher at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science who is using this mapping data to perfect his flooding models. He has been the primary user of the flooding data collected by these events but needs data collected at different times and in different areas.

So now we are looking for funding to keep the work going year around, with mapping teams being organized across Hampton Roads.

Wetlands Watch is Finalist in National Resilience Competition!

Coastal Community Resilience Challenge in Virginia

Coastal Community Resilience Challenge in Virginia

Snapshot: Wetlands Watch has been working on sea level rise adaptation for nearly a dozen years. We have a full adaptation agenda that includes practical approaches, like training the landscape professionals who will do the resilience work. We pitched that to the “Coastal Community Resilience Challenge” being run out of Norfolk, Virginia, and were one of 7 finalists out of 51 international proposals. Final pitch comes up in February.

Backstory: Everyone talks about “nature based solutions” to flooding and stormwater management, but few think about who will do this work. Wetlands Watch has been working for nearly a decade on this issue, efforts that evolved into the Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professional (CBLP) program, a Virginia-Maryland effort to train and certify landscape professionals in nature-based practices. The CBLP trains and certifies landscape professionals from designers, to installation professionals, to landscape management crews. The program’s goal is to expand the trained workforce as demand increases for landscape-based/nature-based stormwater and flood mitigation approaches.

As the CBLP grows and expands into other Chesapeake Bay states, we want to develop an intense effort in coastal Virginia, developing appropriate practices and training landscape professionals about them. With expanded certification we hope to develop a “brand” for the CBLP that will give certified professionals a preferred status in bidding for work, given their ability to insure performance and sustainability of the installations.

One special aspect of our proposal is the use of the “CBLP-A” apprenticeship program, where we bring new, younger practitioners into the profession in an apprentice training program. The other element we are excited about is using our university-local government partnership program, the Collaboratory, to bring academia into this area of development.

We are preparing our final “pitch” now and hope to be successful in February.

Zoning Rewrite in Norfolk Offers Potential Breakthrough on Adaptation

Schematic of how Norfolk’s resilience point system would work to retire development rights

Schematic of how Norfolk’s resilience point system would work to retire development rights

Snapshot: Norfolk has rewritten its zoning ordinance to make it more “resilient.” Key to this novel approach is a scheme to reward developers who take flooded property and put it into a land trust, fostering an orderly retreat for frequently flooded properties. Wetlands Watch wants to figure out the details, make this work in Norfolk, and then export it along the coast.

Backstory: As we reported, the City of Norfolk, Virginia, spent the last three years rewriting its zoning ordinance, the operating plan for how people develop and do business in this coastal city. We were part of a team helping the city and feel the ordinance is novel in a number of respects, raising resilience standards for development across the city, establishing a novel point system of actions required before development can occur, combining the 10-year floodplain and the 500-year floodplain in a "Coastal Resilience Overlay" (CRO)  district with special conditions for development.

But the most novel of the changes is the emergence of a development option that awards resilience points to a project being planned in the higher parts of the city ("Upland Resilience Overlay") if it extinguishes development rights in the CRO. Under this provision a developer would buy a property in the CRO (or purchase the development rights only) and then transfer it to a land trust. This transaction is a private arrangement between the developer, the property owner in the CRO, and a land trust. The land would be put into a conservation easement, allowing the property owner to take advantage of federal tax deductions and state tax credits.

Wetlands Watch is working with the Elizabeth River Project’s Living River Restoration Trust (LRRT), a new urban land trust working along the Elizabeth River. The LRRT is a partner in this work and is developing a critical role in the restoration of an urbanized shoreline in Southeastern Virginia and adding this forward-looking adaptation component. We recently made a presentation on this proposal that explains more completely what we envision.

Increasing numbers of shoreline property owners are trapped in their homes, unable to sell them at market value due to high flood insurance premium costs or recurrent flooding that becomes a known problem for the property. This Norfolk zoning provision provides some escape for those properties and allows the owner to extract much of the invested value in direct payment from the developer and in the form of tax deductions and credits.

There is much complexity in these transactions, however, and much uncertainty. This arrangement has not been tried anywhere in the country so some adjustments, tweaking, and changes will be needed. For the parties involved, there will need to be more certainty about the economics of the transaction before this comes into widespread use.

Wetlands Watch also wants to have these arrangements contain “rolling easements,” provisions for triggering abandonment of the property when certain natural/flooding/flood loss conditions are met.

We are seeking funding for a two-year project to develop this work into a pilot demonstration that we can move into other Virginia communities and then along the entire US coastline.

Southeast Virginia Adopts Sea Level Rise Projections

Hampton Roads Planning district Commission Projections

Hampton Roads Planning district Commission Projections

Snapshot: As we have discussed before, there are too many sea level projections being made without enough guidance on which one(s) to use. The Hampton Roads Planning District Commission (HRPDC) has approved a guidance for localities in Southeast Virginia, one of the few regions in the country to do so.

Backstory: For local governments looking to start sea level rise adaptation implementation, a major challenge exists: what projections of sea level rise are appropriate for the adaptation project? Government agencies and academia have produced a confusing array of projections that, rather than driving adaptation, actually delay it. We have heard from local governments facing this challenge that they would rather wait until there is consensus or until the state government picks a curve.

Even that action has risks. Choose a curve with too low a rate of sea level rise and the adaptation project will fail to produce the expected protection. Choose a curve too high and scare resources are wasted. Wetlands Watch has been arguing for a set of recommendations to be made, seeing localities starting to turn plans into action along the shoreline.

Now our own home region has taken that step, with a set of recommendations for localities in southeast Virginia to use in their flooding mitigation work. This is one of the few concrete actions taken in the country to address this need and the HRPDC is to be applauded for this first step. The guidance states we can expect about 1.5’ of sea level rise by 2040, 3’ of sea level rise by 2070, and 4.5’ of sea level rise by 2000.

This action will also help the state as it struggles with this issue in the recently-issued Executive Order on Sea Level Rise.

Higher Coastal Flooding Brings Higher Levels of Water Pollution

Nutrient Pollution Sampling (background) Assisted by Local Canine (foreground)

Nutrient Pollution Sampling (background) Assisted by Local Canine (foreground)

Snapshot: “Measure the Muck,” citizen science water monitoring program in Virginia, reveals new pollution threats from nuisance flooding. One flood day’s nutrient load equals an entire year’s projected pollution!

Backstory: For the last two years, a citizen science effort has been held to measure the extent of flooding on the highest projected tide of the year, the so-called “King Tide.” At the same time, another citizen science group has been our measuring as well - not where the water goes to when it floods, but rather what the flood waters bring back into our creeks and rivers when they recede.

The work is led by Old Dominion University Oceanography Professor, Dr. Margaret Mulholland, using students from the university as well as regional high school students to take samples. Hampton Roads Sanitation District provided support for the sample collection and processing.

The results from 2017’s sampling even are in - bacterial counts extremely high and nitrogen pollution off the charts as well. The preliminary results show that in the one day’s flooding, the total nitrogen pollution load to the Lafayette River was equal to an entire year’s loading as predicted by the regulatory model. The models do not take these extreme events into account, nor do they take the impacts of flood waters bringing pollution back into our watersheds.

This work is being replicated but these early results show yet another impact from these higher tidal waters that are inundating coastal communities.

Virginia Executive Order on Sea Level Rise Signals Progress to Come


Snapshot: Virginia Governor Ralph Northam issued and executive order on sea level rise and resiliency that will result in a statewide plan to address our coastal flooding issues.

Backstory: Virginia has finally stepped up to deal with its sea level rise and resiliency challenges, one of the few states developing a comprehensive coastal strategy. On November 2, 2018, Governor Ralph Northam issued Executive Order #24, ““Increasing Virginia’s Resilience to Sea Level Rise and Natural Hazards,” setting out the actions that Virginia will take in coming months to put together a state response to sea level rise.

The Executive Order has the state look at its building and determine their vulnerability and set standards for new construction going forward. There is a review of the state’s pre-disaster mitigation programs and guidance for localities on sea level rise projections and freeboard (additional elevation above the flood plain) guidance for new construction.

The most significant part of the Executive Order is the development of a Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Plan, an outline of what is needed in the state to address coastal flood risk. The plan is a comprehensive look at the current state of risk and needs and will be updated every five years, in order to stay current. The draft Plan should be ready by fall of 2019 and will be led by the new Special Assistant to the Governor for Coastal Adaptation and Protection, RADM (ret) Ann Phillips of Norfolk, VA. (and former Wetlands Watch board member!)

Wetlands Watch has been providing assistance to the administration officials working on this executive order and just secured a grant to continue this work.

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!)

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.