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

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

US Urges Restraint in Hong Kong Protests

Protesters angered by Beijing's decision to only approve candidates that it sanctions for Hong Kong's leadership elections in 2017 More

Archive of Forgotten UCLA Speeches Offers Snapshot of History

Recordings of prominent voices in social change, politics, science and literature from 1960s, early 1970s now available on YouTube 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.
Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenyai
X
Gabe Joselow
September 29, 2014 6:20 PM
Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Video

Video Reconstruction? What Reconstruction? Life After War in Gaza

It’s been a month since Israel and the Palestinians agreed to a ceasefire to end 52 days of an air and tank war that left 60,000 homes in Gaza damaged or destroyed and 110,000 homeless. Sharon Behn reports that lack of reconstruction is leading to despair.
Video

Video US, Saudi Arabia and UAE Hit Islamic State's Oil Revenue

The United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have bombed oil facilities operated by Islamic State militants in Syria. It was a truly collaborative effort, with the two Arab countries dropping the majority of the bombs. The 12 refineries targeted were estimated to generate as much as $2 million per day for the terrorist group. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb has the story.
Video

Video Russia's Food Sanctions Raise Price Worries, Hopes for Domestic Production

Russia retaliated against Western sanctions imposed for its actions in Ukraine by halting food imports from the West. The temporary import ban on food from Australia, the European Union, Norway and North America has Russian consumers concerned that they could face a sharp increase in food prices. But in an ironic twist, the restrictions aimed at the Kremlin have made Russia's domestic food producers hopeful this can boost their business. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Washington to Pyongyang: 'Shut This Evil System Down'

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is calling on North Korea to shut down prison camps and other human rights abuses following a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into "widespread and systematic human rights violations." VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid