Making Virginia Beach “Sea Level Wise”

The Takeaway: Six-year study details urgently needed adaptation strategies, complete with potential benefits, costs, and challenges.

Virginia Beach and the Hampton Roads region are experiencing the highest rate of sea level rise on the U.S. Atlantic Coast, troubling news in an area housing 1.7 million people, a vital maritime industry, and the world’s largest naval base. In June 2020 the Virginia Beach City Council passed unanimously the Sea Level Wise Adaptation Plan, a multi-partner study that the city has already used to ensure future critical infrastructure is more resilient and runoff modeling is more consistent. It was aided by an $844,487 coastal resilience grant from NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management and an in-kind match of $899,444 from the City of Virginia Beach.

New guidelines for Virginia Beach are in place:

  • Critical infrastructure projects, such as hospitals, must plan for 3 feet of sea level rise, and non-critical developments must plan for 1.5 feet of rise; and
  • Developers must use the Environmental Protection Agency’s software to model where runoff will flow, not their own tools.

This plan was the result of a six-year study by Dewberry, an engineering consulting firm. Painstaking research into the nature of local risk and vulnerability makes the plan unusually detailed and informative. It includes an analysis of local heavy precipitation patterns, a study on the interaction between area tides and precipitation, an economic analysis of flood insurance, and more. It also reflects feedback from 500-plus residents, 13 interactive public meetings, and an online portal for those unable to attend.

Customized resilience strategies for the city’s four watersheds include adapting buildings and infrastructure, conserving land and increasing green infrastructure, developing engineered defenses, and preparing communities to recover more fully after storm and flood events. Potential costs, benefits, and challenges are also included.

In total, the City of Virginia Beach contributed more than $1.9 million to the Sea Level Wise project and overcame significant challenges during its completion, including major flooding events and a mass shooting in the municipal office building. (Original story 2018/ Updated 2020)

More Information: Virginia Beach Sea Level Wise Adaptation Strategy

Partners: Dewberry, WPL, Georgetown Climate Center, NOAA Office for Coastal Management, Old Dominion University, MetStat, Inc., Syndeste, The Miles Agency, and the City of Virginia Beach’s City Manager’s Office, Working Group on Sea Level Rise, photographer, and departments of Emergency Management, Planning and Community Development, and Public Works