Brock Environmental Center, 3663 Marlin Bay Drive, will show "Tidewater" on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. (Rami Yoakum/Southside Daily)
"Tidewater" is a documentary that looks at the impact of sea level rise in Hampton Roads (Southside Daily photo/Courtesy of the American Resilience Project)
VIRGINIA BEACH — The world’s largest naval base is under siege.
Not from an enemy nation, but the threat is from the very water that it uses to traverse the globe and carry out its mission.
Regardless of why it’s happening or what the cause may be, the fact is that the water the ships at Naval Station Norfolk are floating on is rising, and is now about a foot higher than it was a hundred years ago.
But sea level rise doesn’t affect just Norfolk and its naval base.
Thursday at the Brock Environmental Center in Virginia Beach, residents will have a chance to attend a screening of “Tidewater,” a documentary by filmmaker Roger Sorkin and the American Resilience Project. The film focuses on the Tidewater region and the impact sea level rise is having, and will have, on the communities here.
“Sea level rise is the biggest challenge Virginia Beach faces,” said Karen Forget, executive director of Lynnhaven River NOW. “It is extremely important that our citizens understand this issue both from the perspective of how it will impact our Hampton Roads communities as a whole, but also the impact it will have on them as individuals.”
Many important decisions lie ahead as the region navigates mitigation options, she said, adding that it’s important the values and the preferences of the residents be reflected in those decisions. To have their voices count, they need to be informed.
The film looks at some of the issues communities in Hampton Roads face, from failing and subpar drainage systems to the roads and the electrical grid that is threatened by permanent flooding.
Problems that could take as much as $1 billion to address.
Norfolk City Councilwoman Andria McClellan said sea level rise is the No. 1 issue facing her city, and that competition for future funding will be tight.
“Norfolk needs to be the tip of the spear. Every coastal community will be dealing with coastal flooding in the future,” she said.
But she agrees that it’s not an issue limited to any one city.
“The filmmaker has done a great job in the documentary, with what I think is the most critical issue in our region,” McClellan said. “Water doesn’t know any geographic boundaries.”
Following the showing of the film there will be a panel discussion, which will be facilitated by Joe Bouchard, former commander of Naval Station Norfolk.
“All three pillars of our regional economy – defense spending associated with the many military bases in the region; the maritime industry, including the region’s ports and shipbuilding and ship repair industries; and tourism and outdoor recreation – are affected by sea level rise,” he said. “Most of the facilities and areas important to these industries are in low-lying areas vulnerable to sea level rise.”
As the water rises home values will fall, and flood insurance costs will rise along with the water, Bouchard said.
“Additionally, some insurance companies have begun refusing to insure homes in flood-prone areas, even though their policies do not cover flooding, because those homes also are especially vulnerable to non-flood damage, such as wind damage during storms,” he said.
“Tidewater” looks at the impact of sea level rise on the military bases and forces in Hampton Roads. The film makes the point that sea level rise impairs operations on the bases and threatens the combat readiness of the forces on them.
“But the greatest strength to “Tidewater” is its focus on the communities in Hampton Roads,” Bouchard said. “No military base is self-contained. Most of the active duty military, and all of the civilian employees on the bases, live in the surrounding communities.”
The roads and highways in the region are essential for personnel, supplies, and repair parts to get to the bases, while the bases get their electricity and fresh water from regional utilities.
“All of these critical infrastructures are threatened by sea level rise. If the authorities and companies responsible for these infrastructures do not take effective action to ensure the resilience of their infrastructures in the face of recurrent flooding, they threaten the ability of the bases to carry out their missions,” he added.
McClellan said the economic impact of sea level rise is not limited to just Hampton Roads and its military, shipping, and tourism.
“It’s an issue for the economy of the entire state of Virginia as well,” she said. “It’s expensive and time consuming, but we have to start addressing it now.”
The screening begins at 6:30 p.m. It’s free and open to the public, but those who wish to attend should register by emailing office@LRNow.org, or by calling 757-962-5398.