Wetlands Watch Summary of Adaptation Data Needs and Funding Sources

What Virginia Localities Need to Deal with Flooding

What Virginia Localities Need to Deal with Flooding


Snapshot: We hear from a lot professionals and government decision makers about what kinds of information and data they need in order to start implementing flood management/sea level rise adaptation measures. We also hear lots of ways we might find funding to start this work. We pulled this information together in one place to accelerate implementation.

Backstory: As Virginia’s coastal communities move from studies and plans about flooding to putting those ideas into action, they are starting to find data gaps and needs that are impeding progress. Floodplain managers, local government planners, adaptation decision makers, and others along our shorelines began talking about these issues a while ago and there was a clear need to develop a comprehensive list of these data needs. With this list we could fashion a strategic approach to start ticking needed items off and also help set priorities for the new Virginia initiatives being proposed. But to be effective, any list had to come from comprehensive interviews with the stakeholders.

The report is organized by category (data needed for planning, data needed for stormwater, etc.) and each data need also indicates which stakeholder reported the data need to enable users to connect with others sharing those suggestions. By listing the points of contatct for each organization in the back of the report we hope to facilitate this networking.

As our shorline communities move to implementation, funding quickly becomes an issue. There is a similar need to develop a comprehensive list of potential funding sources for this flood management/sea level rise adaptation work.

Virginia’s Coastal Zone Management Program saw these information needs as well and asked Wetlands Watch to conduct a review of critical data needs that had to be addressed, as well as a review of potential funding sources that could support implementation of projects along Virginia’s coastline. This recent study pulls that information together.

This work needs to be done all along our coastline, so that we can begin to share resources and find ways to address the data gaps and maybe, just maybe, start pulling together the funding to implement solutions.

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.

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.



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.