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-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' 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.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs