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S.C., Virginia Share Coastal Flooding Experience

Jul 14, 2017 | News

The Charleston area in South Carolina and the Hampton Roads region of Virginia have common strengths — vibrant economies, historic neighborhoods, major military installations, and beautiful waterfronts.

They also share a problem, one that threatens all of those strengths — frequent, persistent flooding. That’s what prompted the Hampton Roads and Charleston Coastal Resilience Knowledge Exchange June 15-16, 2017 in Charleston.

About 60 planners, engineers, emergency managers, non-profit leaders, and corporate officials from the two coastal regions gathered to discuss strategies for dealing with their shared challenge. The event was coordinated by the Charleston Resilience Network (CRN), a public-private collaboration formed in 2015 to foster science-based planning for the area. The S.C. Sea Grant Consortium is one of the net-work’s founding organizations.

Water levels have risen more than a foot in the Charleston harbor in the past century and are forecast to rise another 1.5 to 3 feet in the next 50 years. The Hampton Roads region, which includes the communities of Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk, and Virginia Beach, is dealing with similar forecasts.

Nuisance flooding has been on the rise for years in both regions. Extreme astronomical tides as well as persistent weather fronts push seawater into streets, yards, and structures dozens of times each year. Extremely heavy rain events, called rain bombs, can cause minor flooding on their own and catastrophic flooding when combined with extreme tides.

“This is a threat that is creeping up, not coming suddenly,” said Brian Swets, planning administrator for Portsmouth, VA. “We don’t need to say the sky is falling. We have time to act if we plan responsibly.”

Dan Burger, the CRN chair and director of the Coastal Services Division in the Ocean and Coastal Resource Management office of S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, said the presentations and discussions at the Knowledge Exchange were just the start.

“We have our work cut out for us,” Burger said.

In addition to the Knowledge Exchange, the CRN in early 2016 coordinated a symposium recapping the impacts of, and community response to, the October 2015 floods. More recently, the CRN has facilitated informal gatherings of municipal, state, corporate, and non-profit stakeholders to build network participation and encourage sharing of information on flood-related issues.

More information about the Charleston Resilience Network .