Editorial: Living on the edge
Anybody who’s lived here for any length of time has certainly experienced it. A heavy downpour, combined with high tides, creates impassable roads, floods homes, fields and parking lots, and causes a myriad of other problems.
It’s an all-too-familiar scenario, and one that seems to be occurring with ever-greater frequency. And it doesn’t just happen with hurricanes. Any time the ground is saturated and a great deal of rain falls over a short period of time, we all know that there are some areas you just can’t go. And, if you happen to live in those areas, you get your car to higher ground, move items around your home as best you can to avoid water damage, wait for the storm to subside … and pray.
While it may seem there’s little else we can do, aside from seeking divine intervention, efforts are underway in Virginia to mitigate the worst effects of sea level rise. And, if the state follows through with its plan, Virginia could have “the distinction of being one of the few areas in the world which has proactively dealt with flooding, without waiting to be prompted by a major disaster.”
That quote came from a paper published last week by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia. While there has been much debate (including on the editorial pages of this newspaper) about the validity of climate change, and the danger posed by sea level rise, there are some indisputable facts.
One of those facts is that, whatever the cause (climate change, land subsidence, etc.), the waters around our tidal community have been rising. Over the past century, the sea level along Virginia’s coast has risen between 1.2 and 2.3 feet (depending on the part of the state). This means that Virginia is experiencing the highest rates of relative sea level rise along the East Coast.
We are among the coastal communities directly affected by this rise.
It would be foolhardy to believe that this trend wouldn’t continue. More likely, one must assume, it will accelerate.
So what is there to do? The paper’s authors suggest some approaches may involve hard infrastructure, which would include the use of modular levees. Planning and policy adaptions may mean rolling easements—allowing the current use of a coastal area, but including provisions for altering or phasing out these uses over time. It can also mean the preservation of more open space areas, forests and marshes, which allow for some mitigation of floodwaters.
But, as the paper’s authors point out, Virginia has started giving the problem the attention it deserves. The General Assembly has established an 11-member joint subcommittee to come up with recommendations for the development of a comprehensive and coordinated planning effort to address recurrent flooding. Gov. Terry McAuliffe has created the Governor’s Climate Change and Resiliency Update Commission.
This is a conversation that cannot be delayed. Planning must start now.