News / USA

Virginia Town Forced to Adapt to Rising Seas

Virginia Town Forced to Adapt to Rising Seasi
X
September 20, 2013 2:29 PM
No one is far from the water in the port city of Norfolk, Virginia, where citizens are feeling the impact of climate change. At high tide and during storms, water floods the streets. Sea level is rising faster here than anywhere else on the U.S. east coast. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the city is learning to adapt to a warmer world.
Rosanne Skirble
No one is far from the water in Norfolk, Virginia, where citizens are feeling the impact of climate change.

The port city, home to the largest naval base in the world, is a vital part of the region's economy and is critical to the nation's security.

At high tide and during storms, water floods streets.

Sea level is rising faster here than anywhere else on the U.S. East Coast. The city, and its residents, are learning to adapt to a warmer world.

Rising water

Jeff Miskill lives just steps away from the Lafayette River in a house his grandparents bought in the 1950s.

“In the past, when we would have a storm, the water would not come up even to the yard, just on any storm,” he said.

LISTEN: Virginia City Forced to Adapt to Rising Seas
Virginia City Forced to Adapt to Rising Seasi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

That changed in 2003 with Hurricane Isabel. For the first time, water climbed Miskill’s front steps and nearly reached his front door. It’s gotten worse since then with more frequent and severe flooding. Miskill’s house, like many in Norfolk, was built on or near what used to be marsh and wetlands.  

This part of southeastern Virginia was flattened 35 million years by a meteor that created the largest impact crater in North America.

Norfolk sits on the mouth of the largest estuary in the United States with an intricate network of rivers and creeks. When one region floods, so do others, even 50 kilometers away.

  • Flooding closes this pedestrian walkway in downtown Norfolk. (Credit: City of Norfolk)
  • Rising sea level, high tides combine with severe weather to flood Norfolk streets, effectively isolating neighborhoods in this city of 250,000. (Credit: City of Norfolk)
  • When it floods in Norfolk everyone suffers as the region is flat, the legacy of a meteor that hit southeastern Virginia 35 million years ago. (Credit: Skip Stiles)
  • Even when flood water recedes tell-tale stains remain on the sidewalk. (Rosanne Skirble/VOA)
  • Some early builders in Norfolk saw the threat from the sea and built homes on raised banks of earth. (Rosanne Skirble/VOA)
  • The future of this school on a Norfolk river is uncertain because of high tides, sinking land and sea level rise. (Rosanne Skirble/VOA)
  • Norfolk city government is taking aggressive steps to adapt to rising waters, elevating some houses on higher brick foundations at flood hot spots. (Rosanne Skirble/VOA)
  • Another short-term fix is to raise roads near like this major artery near a Norfolk medical center. (Rosanne Skirble/VOA)
  • In some residential neighborhoods the city is promoting wetland regrowth to absorb some of the flooding waters. (Rosanne Skirble/VOA)
  • Sea walls help keep the water at bay around the city. (Rosanne Skirble/VOA)
  • Norfolk is a maritime, military and transportation hub in southeastern Virginia. (Rosanne Skirble/VOA)
  • Rain and heavy winds in 2003 from Hurricane Isabel flood fleet parking at Naval Station Norfolk, trapping vehicles in water as high as their windows. (Credit: U.S. Navy)
  • A Langley Air Force Base, Va., firefighter pulls a boat loaded with evacuees through the flood waters of Hurricane Floyd on Sept. 16, 1999. (Credit: U.S. Air Force.)

“This old wetland, with sea level rise, wants to be a wetland again," said Skip Stiles, executive director of Wetlands Watch, an environmental group. "And that’s the problem that we face in this neighborhood, that the tidal water comes up from behind us and floods the neighborhood. And it gets higher and higher and higher every year because it’s coming on top of a higher and higher base of sea level.”

Infrastructure at risk   

New studies predict that the region can expect more than a meter of sea level rise by 2100, which Stiles notes puts city infrastructure at risk.

“Every bridge that we build today, every road that we build today, every sewer line that we put in place today is going to face significant challenges from sea level rise over its useful life before it’s replaced again," Skiles said. "And it’s going to be much more expensive to retrofit them than to design them correctly to begin with.”  

In the short-term, Norfolk has responded with flood walls, powerful pumping stations, drains and storm pipes. And in hotspots, houses and roads are being raised and wetlands allowed to regrow. Assistant city manager Ron Williams is charged with projects like the highway across from Norfolk’s medical center. When it’s done, the road will be one-half meter higher.

“What we have identified is about $1 billion worth of infrastructure that we need, that is critical to protect and mitigate during coastal storms, and until we do that we will still have some vulnerabilities throughout the city,” Williams said.  

Federal support

That’s a hefty bill the city cannot afford on its own.  

“It’s really going to take commitment of the federal and state government to really establish a strategy,” Williams said.  

Retired naval caption Joe Bouchard agrees. A decade ago he commanded Naval Station Norfolk, the world’s largest naval base.  He says it and other nearby military installations account for 45 percent of the region’s economy and are vital for the nation’s security. He says the U.S. Congress must act to address climate change, which it has been reluctant to do.

“Congress needs to overcome that and they need to put our national security above special interests, and when DOD (Dept. of Defense) comes to the Congress requesting funding in the military construction account in the defense appropriations bill, Congress needs to support that,” Bouchard said.

Bouchard and others in Norfolk are pushing for federal support and believe that the military could take the lead, working in tandem with the communities around them to craft a solution to adapt to the increasing threat of climate change before it’s too late.

You May Like

Australia Knights Prince Philip, Sparking National Outrage

Abbott's surprise reintroduction of knights and dames in the country's honors system last year drew criticism that he was out of touch with national sentiment More

SAG Award Boosts 'Birdman' Oscar Hopes

Individual acting Oscars appear to be sewn up: SAG awards went to artists who won Golden Globes: Julianne Moore, Eddie Redmayne, Patricia Arquette, J.K. Simmons More

Katy Perry Lights Way for Super Bowl's Girl Power Moment

Pop star's selection to headline US football championship's halftime show extends NFL's trend of selecting artists who appeal to younger viewers More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sidesi
X
June Soh
January 23, 2015 10:03 PM
The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.
Video

Video US Marching Bands Grow Into a Show of Their Own

The 2014 Super Bowl halftime show was the most-watched in history - attracting an estimated 115 million viewers. That event featured pop star Bruno Mars. But the halftime show tradition started with marching bands, which still dominate the entertainment at U.S. high school and college American football games. But as Enming Liu reports in this story narrated by Adrianna Zhang, marching bands have grown into a show of their own.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid