Old Dominion University, Chesapeake Bay Foundation launch flood resilience partnership

By: - March 15, 2023 3:19 pm

Flooding in the The Lakes neighborhood of Virginia Beach from the remnants of Hurricane Matthew on Oct. 9, 2016. This was the most significant flood in this neighborhood in decades. ( Jason Boleman / Capital News Service)

A new partnership between a state university and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation aims to fill the gaps in resources localities in the state face when addressing flooding.

Old Dominion University’s Institute for Coastal Adaptation and Resilience and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation announced the launch of the Resilient and Adaptable Communities Partnership Wednesday morning following a year’s worth of planning and $1.5 million in funding from the state.

“The challenges that are presented by climate change, in particular sea level rise and increased inland flooding, they’re going to be with us for the foreseeable future,” said Jay Ford, CBF Virginia Policy and Grassroots Advisor. “It’s incumbent upon us as a commonwealth, as a collaboration, to help our communities adapt in a way that allows us to better live with the water.”

Both Virginia’s coastal areas and rural inland communities have been struggling to deal with increased flooding linked to sea level rise and more intense rainfall, respectively, leading to millions of dollars being doled out for projects to prevent loss of life and damage from catastrophic weather events.

Those changing climate patterns also have environmental impacts: more intense short periods of rainfall can lead to more polluted stormwater flowing into the Bay, Ford said.

“We have Bay program goals for these habitats that we’re not anywhere near meeting right now. If we go around the Bay and start hardening shorelines, we won’t get there,” Ford said, referencing the installation of firm walls to hold back seas instead of more natural living shorelines. “The work in building a sustainable resilience plan is really inextricably tied to meeting our Bay goals.”

The partnership announcement comes after the Virginia Institute of Marine Science released a report last week that stated Norfolk is experiencing the highest rate of sea level rise along the East Coast, WHRO reported last week

To assist with the climate change fight, the new partnership is currently hiring research faculty to help secure federal funding, analyze data, provide assistance with incorporating nature-based technologies like living shorelines into engineering projects and conduct cost-benefit analyses. 

“We’re charged with taking science to action,” said Jessica Whitehead, executive director of the Institute for Coastal Adaptation and Resilience. “We’re not just going to produce some academic reports. We have to help Virginia communities make meaningful progress on building resilience for all.”

The partnership will further work with local governments to put resilience plans into action by fostering collaboration across various departments, including parks and recreation and economic development. ODU will also provide credentialing and academic degree programs to train a workforce to design and build projects that protect homes and businesses while benefiting the Bay, as well as look to introduce resiliency concepts to students at the elementary school level, Whitehead said.

“Resilience and climate change touch so many things, in terms of our communities, from disaster case management to public health to the maritime industries to real estate to so many other sectors,” Whitehead said. “The professionals who will be in 2050 the ones who are mid-career in charge of managing these decisions are sitting in our elementary school and middle school classrooms right now.”

With several other Virginia environmental organizations and university research institutions already involved in resilience efforts such as the Resilience Adaptation Feasibility Tool, or RAFT, the partnership will work to fill any gaps and identify communities that haven’t made as much progress. It will have a representative on the state’s Resilience Authority Workgroup and support implementation of the Coastal Resilience Master Plan and Virginia Flood Protection Master Plan.

The expectation is that the partnership will continue beyond these initial two years, Ford said. 

In a statement, both House Appropriations Committee Chair Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach, and Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee Co-Chair George Barker, D-Alexandria, expressed support for the program.

This partnership creates an important hub that will provide communities with practical solutions to threats from flooding and extreme weather,” Knight said.


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Charlie Paullin
Charlie Paullin

Charles Paullin covers energy and environment for the Mercury. He previously worked for Northern Virginia Daily in the Northern Shenandoah Valley and for the New Britain Herald in central Connecticut. An Alexandria native, Charles graduated from the University of Hartford initially wanting to cover sports. He's received several Virginia Press Association awards for his coverage of crime, local government and state politics.