Officials: This workshop will show how forests and greenways can help mitigate urban flooding

VIRGINIA BEACH — As residents throughout the region confront the challenges of increased coastal flooding, this city is exploring all possible solutions to reduce flood risks, including natural solutions that could be leveraged in concert with other public infrastructure projects to help provide relief from urban flooding.

That’s the impetus behind research by Daniel McLaughlin, an assistant professor of ecohydrology in Virginia Tech’s Department of Forest Resources & Environmental Conservation, city officials said.

McLaughlin, whose work seeks to understand the interactions between ecosystems and water cycles to help inform and improve water resource management, will share results of his research at the Forests & Flood Protection community conversation on Wednesday.

The event will be at the Tidewater Community College Virginia Beach Campus, Advanced Technology Center (1800 College Crescent) starting at 7 p.m. It’s free and open to the public, according to the city.

“We know that forests capture and store water, then return it to the atmosphere — so, when there’s heavy rainfall, they can aid in reducing stormwater runoff,” McLaughlin said.

Forests currently comprise roughly 38 percent of Virginia Beach’s land area, and McLaughlin’s research is looking at the flood reduction potential of forested areas to help inform conservation and restoration efforts, a news release from the city indicated.

The green infrastructure strategies for stormwater management can be an important step in the city’s stormwater planning.

“For communities like Virginia Beach, where stormwater management and flooding can be challenging, forests play a particularly important role,” McLaughlin said. “This study will provide critical new data on how current forested areas are already protecting the city, and what additional services an expanded forest canopy could provide.”

The study is being conducted in two phases.

The first, which is now underway, is analyzing current flood reduction services provided by the city’s forests and how these services may depend on forest attributes and their proximity to flood prone urban areas. With this information, the researchers will estimate how much water is stored and removed by forests within the city’s nearly 500 square miles.

That phase will also involve developing a user-friendly, interactive platform to assess how Virginia Beach could benefit from forest conservation and restoration strategies.

The second phase will incorporate estimates of forest flood reduction into computer models that can simulate water storage and runoff during specific rain events, according to the city.

The city can then use these tools to target high-performing forested areas for conservation and additional high-potential locations for reforestation.

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John Mangalonzo (john@localvoicemedia.com) is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.