Hampton Roads’ Sea Level Rise Adaptation Advances on Multiple Fronts

The Takeaway: The area has several projects underway to help improve current conditions and plan for the future.

Virginia’s Hampton Roads region is experiencing the highest rates of sea level rise along the entire Atlantic seaboard and is second only to New Orleans as the largest U.S. population center at risk. Forty percent of the local economy comes from U.S. Department of Defense spending, and almost all major military facilities in this region are threatened by sea level rise.

Researchers estimate that three feet of sea level rise here would impact anywhere from 59,059 people to 176,124 people (equal to 84 percent of Richmond’s population). It would cause from 162 to 877 miles of roads to be inundated, either permanently or regularly.

In 2008, Virginia’s Coastal Zone Management Program began building resilience to rising sea levels and increased flooding. With the program’s support, localities better understand the challenges, as well as ways to address them while maintaining their economic vitality. By promoting natural shoreline techniques that maintain wetlands and habitat, the program helps protect commercially valuable fisheries and private property threatened by erosion.

The following initiatives are helping Hampton Roads and surrounding areas prepare:

  • “ThRIVe: Resilience in Virginia” is a living-with-water approach that is unifying the region, building water management solutions, improving economic vitality, and strengthening vulnerable neighborhoods.
  • The City of Virginia Beach’s adaptation strategy involves relocating new and existing infrastructure. The city received $825,000 from NOAA to put in place adaptation strategies. Virginia Beach’s influence, and their public engagement during this grant project, will benefit the greater Hampton Roads region.
  • Efforts spearheaded by the rural Middle Peninsula Planning District led to an adaptation plan focused on the local government’s role in public health, safety, and welfare. Virginia’s coastal program provided funding.
  • The Hampton Roads Intergovernmental Pilot on Sea Level Rise is coordinating preparedness efforts among the private sector and federal, state, and local agencies.

The Hampton Roads Planning District Commission has produced local adaptation reports and helps coordinate response across the region’s 17 municipalities. The NOAA-supported Hampton Roads Adaptation Forum hosts quarterly meetings of professionals to foster coordination, exchange ideas, and share best practices. This region received a grant for $120 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to address sea level rise and recurrent flooding. (2016)

Partners: Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission, City of Virginia Beach, Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, Middle Peninsula Planning District, NOAA, Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program