On December 7, 2021, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam released the Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Plan. It provides a foundational and fundamental step towards protecting the state’s coast, and will (hopefully) lead to the creation of a strategic process and an ongoing regenerative growth program for implementation.
“The Master Plan reflects the Technical Advisory Committee’s hard work and dedication to the safety and economic resilience of Virginia’s coastal communities,” said Elizabeth Armistead Andrews, Professor of the Practice and Director, Virginia Coastal Policy Center, William & Mary Law School. “Now comes the long-term work of successfully implementing the Plan, which will require adequate funding and policies to address the distinct needs of our rural, urban, Tribal, and socially vulnerable communities.”
Virginia’s coastal areas face significant impacts from rising sea levels and increased storm flooding. Virginia’s regional and local entities have to take meaningful and continuous action to ensure the long-term sustainability of Virginia’s coastal resources and communities.
“This Coastal Master Plan gives Virginia its first strategic approach to dealing with sea level rise,” said Wetlands Watch Executive Director Skip Stiles. “This Plan, together with a range of other initiatives taken during the Northam Administration, constitutes a body of work that places Virginia in a national leadership role for addressing climate change and resilience needs.”
Earlier this year, the Commonwealth worked with 2,000 stakeholders to build the Coastal Resilience Master Plan. This plan documents which land is exposed to coastal flooding hazards now and into the future, as well as the impacts of those future scenarios on coastal Virginia’s community resources and manmade and natural infrastructure.
“We must acknowledge that climate change is permanently altering the physical limits of our coastal lands,” said Governor Northam. “The only way we can adapt and maintain our thriving communities is with thoughtful planning, reliance on science, and a willingness to make tough decisions. This Master Plan will guide decisions by the Commonwealth and our local government partners.”
The Master Plan concluded that between 2020 and 2080:
- the number of residents living in homes exposed to extreme coastal flooding is projected to grow from approximately 360,000 to 943,000, an increase of 160%;
- the number of residential, public, and commercial buildings exposed to an extreme coastal flood is projected to increase by almost 150%, from 140,000 to 340,000, while annualized flood damages increase by 1,300% from $0.4 to $5.1 billion;
- the number of miles of roadways exposed to chronic coastal flooding is projected to increase from 1,000 to nearly 3,800 miles, an increase of nearly 280%; and
- an estimated 170,000 acres, or 89%, of existing tidal wetlands and 3,800 acres, or 38%, of existing dunes and beaches may be permanently inundated, effectively lost to open water.
The Coastal Resiliency Database and Web Explorer is a publicly available database that shows the impact of coastal flood hazards, current and proposed resilience projects, as well as funding sources. This database will serve as a vital tool to support resilience efforts at the state, regional, and local levels.
“The Master Plan recognizes that flooding affects many Virginians but does not do so equally. This initial effort highlighted many unmet needs in underserved communities,” said Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources and Chief Resilience Officer Ann Jennings. “Working closely with the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, DCR will continue outreach and engagement for those communities moving forward.”
The Commonwealth intends to develop successive updates of the Master Plan on at least a five-year cycle, managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation in consultation with the Chief Resilience Officer, the Special Assistant to the Governor for Coastal Adaptation and Protection, and the Technical Advisory Committee.
“This work is the culmination of a significant collaborative effort on the part of stakeholders across coastal Virginia, and in particular, the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), who advised us during this process,” explained Rear Admiral (Retired) Ann C. Phillips, Special Assistant to the Governor for Coastal Adaptation and Protection.
“The TAC, and seven TAC Subcommittees, including Agency Directors and Commissioners, Academia, the eight Coastal Planning District and Regional Commission Directors, USACE, DoD and other Federal partners, Tribal Representatives, NGOs and other invited stakeholders, worked tirelessly this year. We are deeply grateful for their continued support and advice to adapt and protect Coastal Virginia,” she continued.
The next phase of the Master Plan is anticipated by 2024, will aim to address recommendations of the TAC to broaden the analysis of natural hazards by including rainfall-driven, riverine, and compound flooding, expand and improve the inventory of resilience projects. by continuing to add efforts and working with project owners to better understand the benefits of projects, and extend this critical work beyond the coastal region to encompass statewide resilience needs.
Other Virginia-based leaders voiced their support for the plan:
“A strength of Virginia’s Plan is its reliance on science,” said Dr. Mark Luckenbach, Associate Dean of Research and Advisory Service, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, William & Mary. “Members of the Technical Advisory Committee drawn from Virginia institutions of higher education helped ensure that the Plan was informed by state-of-the-art science, as well as policy and legal reviews. As the Commonwealth moves forward with implementing and updating the Plan, Virginia’s universities are poised to provide data, analyses and expertise on wide-ranging topics that will be essential to its success.”
“As Chair of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce, we enthusiastically support the continued development of the Coastal Resiliency Master Plan,” said Clark Nexsen Senior Principal Chris Stone. “All along our coastal communities, sea level rise, increased storm intensity and frequency, recurrent coastal flooding along with increased levels of precipitation are negatively affecting our residents and businesses. And while it may be impossible to eliminate these risks, with this announcement today, we can reduce that risk, increase our resilience, and protect the natural and cultural resources of our coastline, leading to a more economically diverse, prosperous, and resilient region for future generations.”
“As a stakeholder in the creation of the Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Plan, the Navy remains committed to continue being an engaged partner with the Commonwealth to continue the important work of addressing climate resiliency and to ensure strategy alignment as we moved forward on these efforts,” said Rear Admiral Charles W. Rock, Commander, Navy Region, Mid-Atlantic. “We have long recognized the interconnected relationship of community and military and have proactively engaged with surrounding communities through multiple forums to help address climate resiliency efforts.”
“Outside of New Orleans, the Hampton Roads region is the most threatened area in the nation due to sea level rise and intense flooding caused by climate change,” Hampton Mayor Donnie Tuck. “The Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Plan is a bold step in addressing our region’s resiliency concerns.”
All photos of Virginia coastal flooding are courtesy of NOAA. Featured photo shows flooding on King Street in Alexandria, Virginia.