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.