Virginia Beach plans for higher seas

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Image from 2014 city presentation on eastern Shore Drive drainage improvements. (Courtesy of vbgov.com)

Image from 2014 city presentation on eastern Shore Drive drainage improvements. (Courtesy of vbgov.com)

In light of national concern about sea-level rise, specifically on the East Coast, the department of public works came to Virginia Beach City Council Tuesday night with a “trident approach,” said Gregory Johnson, a stormwater technical services engineer — a three pronged approach that addressed sea-level rise, water quality and water quantity.

The presentation came nearly 18 months after the city asked public works to conduct a study. Now, a team has an update on a project due to span three years.

“We’re not asking for anything today,” said Public Works Director Phil Davenport. “We’re not asking for money, we’re not asking for you to do anything or approve anything. We’re just giving you some information today.”

In a 29-page presentation, Johnson addressed the rise, quality and quantity, focusing on three major projects in the Central Business District, Shore Drive and Windsor Woods. He proposed solutions for each: the Central Business District may see drainage southbound to 16th Street, or north to Laskin Road. Shore Drive may see floodgates by the end of the year. Windsor Woods, may see more pumps or switching pipes. A resident of the area, he’s seen firsthand what water rise looks like.

“I travel Rosemont Road every single day, and when it’s not good, I don’t like it,” he said.

A sea-level-rise study, currently underway has three parts, mapped out in the presentation: defining the problem, tailoring the solution and planning the actions.

“The first step we have to do is have an understanding of what doing nothing would mean,” he said later in an interview. “The first course in engineering school is what happens if you do nothing.”

By looking at data from the last 80 years, the city’s anticipated an increase of a foot or 1.5 feet of water by the year 2100. The real variable, Johnson said, is acceleration. That means the 1.5 feet of water could come as early as 2035, according to a chart that maps different organizations’ predictions. 

Estimates span from $40 million to over $100 million for the different projects, but Johnson emphasized that these are estimates.

He said the city is planning to seek federal and state assistance. It’s already partnered with ODU/Virginia Sea Grant, Georgetown Climate Center, Hampton Roads Planning District Commission and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

Now, Johnson’s team is evaluating major watersheds. They promised to remain engaged with the supporting agencies, partners, public and city council.

“We’re preparing for the future. I think there is evidence that seas are coming up some, and we’re planning for it,” Johnson said.

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Kate Mishkin: 757-490-2750 or kate@tideradio.com

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