The Water Is Coming



(page 4 of 7)

Norfolk, two years ago, commissioned the Netherlands aquatic engineering firm Fugro to brainstorm flooding solutions. “They bring decades of expertise,” Redick says. “They’ve invested so much money because they are below sea level themselves. Some of the engineering solutions that they did, the research and recommendations, had to do with floodwalls, floodgates, in places that are regularly hit.” The firm estimated that it would cost more than a billion dollars just to protect the city of Norfolk.

“And that was just for a partial protection,” says Benjamin Strauss, vice-president at Climate Central, a non-profit science research group based in Maryland. His non-advocacy research organization has been researching sea level conditions across the nation. “Virginia is among the states with the biggest problems and challenges,” he says.

Climate Central’s new vulnerability assessment of our coast, an interactive online report called “Virginia and Rising Seas,” reveals that there’s an even chance of floods exceeding 5 feet above the high tide line in the next 20 years along the Virginia coast. Since nearly 1,500 miles of road is below five feet, the damage would be tremendous. “54,000 homes, with 107,000 residents, sit on this area,” the study reads. “Not to mention seven schools; 67 houses of worship; one power plant; and 148 EPA-listed sites such as hazardous waste dumps and sewage plants.”

Building seawalls may not be practical for protection, Strauss says. “In Virginia, I look and there’s these tidal creeks everywhere. Besides being flat, the shoreline is so long that it’s hard to imagine how to build berms or levees that would do the job. The Dutch firm looked at a sort of storm surge barrier across the wide mouth of the Bay, and I think that’s probably what could be done from an engineering perspective—build these barriers that cut off whole creek and estuary networks, but then you begin to change the nature and character of the whole region.”

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