adaptation

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.

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.

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.

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.