As sea level rise becomes the new normal in Norfolk, residents respond
The area surrounding Norfolk is the second largest by population in the U.S. threatened by rising tides
A small circle of community members sit in folding chairs in the gym of a YMCA building, surrounded by dollhouses and basketballs. Construction paper cut outs of suns and beach balls line the walls, with letters reading “fun in the sun.” Beside it, a slideshow with a diagram of the greenhouse effect is projected on a pull down screen.
“We have to care about this issue for our children,” says Kim Miller to the room, pointing to a new slide with pictures of flooded streets. “It’s simply up to us to make a difference.”
Miller is the Hampton Roads, Virginia organizer for Mothers Out Front, a volunteer-led organization that she says “empowers women with training, coaching and ideas to move their communities and states from dirty to clean energy.” As a coordinator, Miller often leads these strategy sessions to speak with community members about the issue of climate change.
Norfolk and the surrounding tidewater region comprise an area that is second only to New Orleans in terms of population threatened by sea level rise, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. As waters rise and the land surrounding Norfolk sinks—a process called subsidence—the early symptoms of inundation are becoming everyday occurrences.
“We’re seeing the effects of climate change more and more here,” says Miller as she flips through slides explaining the history of the Chesapeake Bay and the greenhouse effect, with pictures of local flooding. “It’s right here in our neighborhood now.”
Tidewater Gardens, in the center of Norfolk and right by the Elizabeth River, is in danger from both the environment and the city. The city is proposing to tear down the community, which offers low income and section eight housing, and rebuild mixed income houses.
Tidewater Gardens is also frequently flooded, often times so much that it makes travel difficult for school buses driving though the roads. The city’s proposal includes plans to not rebuild in places that are frequently flooded, but to instead create parks and green areas.
Across town, water starts to spill over from the Elizabeth River onto Llewelyn Avenue. Cars barely slow down as they pass through the nuisance flooding, a common occurrence on the avenue during high tide that locals are familiar with. This often happens even when there is no rain.
And when there is rain, that road, like many others, becomes impassable. Neighborhood streets become rivers and front yards turn into pools of standing water. Outside the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, children splash in the flooded streets nearly every time there is heavy rainfall. A pond outside the museum that connects with the Elizabeth River overflows quickly during storms, flooding front yards and cars left unattended.
Nuisance flooding has increased in Norfolk in recent years, and is predicted to be an area of chronic inundation by the end of the century, meaning flooding occurs more than 26 times per year.
When it’s not storming in Norfolk, fishermen fill Ocean View Fishing Pier at all hours of the day. Some even stay for multiple days, such as Stanley Cuffee, who sometimes brings a sleeping bag and a camp chair to stay on the pier overnight. Cuffee has lived on the Chesapeake Bay most of his life.
“I’m Chesapeake born and raised. I learned how to swim in these waters. I’ve seen them build roads and I’ve seen those roads flood,” says Cuffee, who believes that despite climate change, the Bay has been improving. “The Bay really does look better now, it will just take time.”
Time is something that the region is working against when it comes to sea level rise. Since 1880, global sea level has risen about eight inches, even more so in Virginia, where it has risen 14.5 inches between 1930 and 2010. By the end of the century, global sea level is projected to rise by another one to four feet.
Chesapeake Bay partners are working to increase the climate resilience of communities across the region to increase their ability to adapt to these projected changes. To that end, the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Climate Resiliency Workgroup is working to develop a database of climate data and mapping resources so that communities are equipped with the knowledge to prepare for the future.
Preparation is key, but so too is community engagement. The city council delayed indefinitely the vote on the plan to redevelop Tidewater Gardens in part to work on better reaching out to the community to listen to concerns, answer questions and solicit input.
Sea level rise is a global problem, but there are local solutions. Norfolk, with its large population, military presence, seaside location and subsiding land, has quite a few factors that put the spotlight on its challenges. But a combination of preparation and participation can put the city—and region—in a better place to handle them.
Across this beautiful Common Wealth. The second half of my life, I dedicate to Virginia
My daughter and I lived at Topsail Island in NC right after she finished high school. There were houses at Top Sail that had been completely overtaken by the sea. At the end of the island, some were gone completely, some you only see the top floor or t he roof and a few that were not ocean front had waves crashing on their porches.
My prayers as well as my research, and reach out connections to non-profits who might can help, will be dedicated to the families who might have to move if their subsidized houses gets eaten by the city in response to the flooding. Perhaps there is some Pandemic money "floating around," that might accidentally help?
I am a mountain girl now, in the posh and lofty Shenandoah Valley. I bet u did not know a valley could be lifted up so! I highly recommend all four seasons in little/big ski town Afton VA has beer trails. The wineries of Nelson County VA. are better than California! Lovingston VA has good Chinese, and Mexican takeout. Even better skyline drive and affordable accommodations in Waynesboro/ Charlottesville area. Beside the Appalachian Trail, The Quality Inn in Waynesboro, is a family run place. Sparkling clean and remodeled. The owners are friendly, and humble. Across the street is the best pizza and subs at Ciro's, and the taco truck is amazing. Colony House hotel was not a good fit for me. The walls are paper thin, and brown towels with blue sheets felt wrong somehow. My family came and stayed there. Office man said I could not visit unless I rent a room, and my next door neighbor kept calling the office saying i had company because i was on the phone and that i needed to turn down the TV, which was not on? Creepy man followed me too close walking to my car.
Unfortunately, the magnificent James river, the South River (who runs north, into the Mountain Mama Herself, the Shenandoah River, as well as the Tye, Staunton, and the Rockfish are all flooding and making messes this very day. Does the sea level affect the James in Richmond tremendously? When I moved Virginia, 12 years ago, I came by bus. So I got toe experience the widest part of that river. A city park on an island in the middle of river is what I saw there! Glory to our Creator! That is nearly ridiculous!
My most Recent discovery ha d me to plant a flag in Ocean View VA! It is a lovely peaceful place to get away to. Thinking about floods and and your awesome; but ominous tunnels over there takes my breath away and gives me a little roller coaster feeling in my tummy. Thank goodness, though that the tidewater region seems to be a little better maintained than Top Sail NC. . We gotta take good care of all those well dressed, impeccably groomed, young gentlemen, and ladies who seem to be everywhere on that side of the state. Thank You from my soul.
Ocean view is for the calm quiet lovers and the fishing is the best. Motel 6 and the Camel place across the road make a good handy team. Pay attn to traffic times when planning to leave the island, and don;t forget to check out the park and donuts at 7 11.
I am no ""hell or high water" kind. Hope "my" little beach survives if it so willed.
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