Category Archives: Flooding

The Economics of Flood Control in Virginia

Hampton Roads base flood – 1% annual risk

by James C. Sherlock

We have work to do, and need to do it quickly and well.

  • If we want to get storm defenses built before major storm damage rather than after; and
  • if we want the federal government to pay 65% of the costs.

Let’s assume we do.

The “Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Planning Framework” appears to be heading in a direction that may miss important pieces of any benefit/cost assessment. And those assessments drive federal interest.

The assumption in Framework going forward appears to be that the value of flood protection is in loss avoidance. Exclusively. 

Indeed, all of the work that I can find in flooding assessments Virginia is put towards the goal of understanding the costs of such losses.

Not sufficient, but fixable. Continue reading

Louisiana Shows How Flood Control Can Work at Massive Scale

by James C. Sherlock

Louisiana has half the population of Virginia. Virginia is ranked the 18th richest state in per capita income, Louisiana 48th.

So, why has Louisiana been so phenomenally successful in flood control efforts since Katrina while Virginia writes its own framework for action that it is too expensive here?

Primarily because Louisiana figured out after Katrina that:

  1. the feds simultaneously have all the flood control resources — money, expertise, experience, scale — that states do not have, and both write the regulations and regulate flood control.
  2. the state had to organize both the state and local governments to deal with the federal government with a single voice.

The new agency charged with that monumental and immediate task, while quickly and iteratively creating itself, was the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) of Louisiana.

There is much for Virginians to know about and learn from Louisiana’s success. You will see that the Bayou State has way bigger flooding problems to solve than does Virginia.

Their success must be a model for us.

Yet the Commonwealth seems hell bent on ignoring the methods that enabled that success. Our leaders also deny that engineered defenses, “castles,” are even affordable as part of the solution set in Virginia. Each idea is both ill considered and dangerous.

I will describe briefly how Louisiana has done its part in this. Continue reading

The Costliest Floods in Interior Virginia Since 1969

Car in tree in Nelson County after Camille

by James C. Sherlock

I offer this survey of Virginia’s biggest interior floods since 1969, mostly courtesy of the National Weather Service, as equal time for my reporting on coastal flooding in Virginia.

The interior is where the most deaths have occurred in Virginia floods, not the coast.

The deaths reach those levels in interior Virginia through a combination of:

  • topography, especially where rain runs off the mountains,
  • sometimes relatively short notice alerts compared to coastal weather forecasting, and
  • the historic practice of building in hollars in the mountains and bottom lands adjacent to rivers.

Rainwater surging down mountains into rivers can be catastrophic at every point in its flow.

This will provide both a photo remembrance and a brief written record of each of those four storms. Continue reading

Virginia’s Coast and Flood Control – The Past Is Prologue

by James C. Sherlock

Granby Street Norfolk after Great Hurricane of 1933

So how do we picture how bad a hurricane or Nor’easter could be along Virginia’s coast? What might it look like?

Won’t the Outer Banks catch the worst of any hurricane and break it up?

Well, no.

Consider some stunning historical examples. Continue reading

Flood Control — Fatal flaws in Virginia’s Approach

Hampton Roads Federal Installations

by James C. Sherlock

It is hurricane season, if you had not noticed.

This is the first of a multi-part series of articles on flood control in Virginia.

This first one will provide a brief overview of where we stand in flood control planning and construction in the Commonwealth with an emphasis on Hampton Roads.

The next three will discuss the federal role, the Commonwealth role and the regional/local roles in more depth.

The development of a Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Plan is the responsibility of the Commonwealth’s Chief Resilience Officer, the Secretary of Natural Resources. So far, it looks like it.

The current path the Commonwealth has chosen has fatal flaws.  A discussion of those flaws follows.

First some background. Continue reading

Virginia Has a Rising Sea Problem, Relatively

Ninety years of relative sea level rise (SLR) at Norfolk’s Sewells Point gauge, with mean lines added by Kip Hansen. It is about two-third due to sinking land, one-third due to long term absolute SLR, and in no way due to modern CO2 emissions.

by Steve Haner and Kip Hansen

When discussing sea level rise, on Virginia’s coast or anywhere else, watch the terms being used very carefully. Absolute sea level is the height of the ocean compared to the center of the Earth. Relative sea level is the height of the ocean compared to a specific point on the shore. They are not the same.

Virginia’s coastal region is getting creamed by relative sea level rise, not the absolute variety. As clear and important as that is, however, Virginia officialdom has decided to ignore it and instead base its economic decisions on scary model projections that put much of tidal Virginia underwater within decades.

This June article from Virginia Mercury details how Governor Ralph Northam’s administration imposed the assumption that relative sea level at Sewell’s Point will rise 2.2 feet by 2050, which would require an acceleration of the measured rise by factors of about five. The projected rise would approach seven feet by 2100. That would cover much of developed Virginia Beach. Continue reading

The Other Side of the “Intensifying Rain” Claim

Prepared by Kip Hansen. Data sources cited. Click for larger view.

by Steve Haner and Kip Hansen

With the rainy remnants of another hurricane heading for Virginia from battered Louisiana, the stories of a coming Climate Armageddon will again ramp up. A couple of good examples of what to expect recently appeared in Virginia Mercury, the main one quoting numerous sources claiming Virginia is seeing more and more intense rainfall and will suffer more flooding as a result.

Don’t accept that on the slim evidence presented without paying close attention to what you are not being told. The facts omitted are often the main problem with the Climate Armageddon Narrative, which usually avoids outright falsehoods but regularly ignores adverse evidence.

The most powerful assumption in government right now, whether in Washington or Richmond, is that the Climate Armageddon Narrative is fact-based. It is instead based on models. A recent state-sponsored report which also warns of more and more intense rainfall, quoted by the Mercury, relies heavily on models and totally ignores how they usually offer a range of predictions. The report focuses only on the more dire of those predictions, not those which merely extrapolate historical trends. (More on that in a second story on sea level rise.) Continue reading

Shellenberger’s “Apocalypse Never” Lessons for VA

HarperCollins, 2020

“Climate change is real but it’s not the end of the world.  It is not even our most serious environmental problem.”

By Steve Haner

That statement opens the dust jacket summary for “Apocalypse Never:  Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All” by Michael Shellenberger, once named “Hero of the Environment” by Time magazine. It remains the number one best-seller in Amazon’s Climate or Environmental Policy category, competing with alarmist sermons such as “The Uninhabitable Earth” by David Wallace-Wells and “How To Avoid A Climate Disaster” by Bill Gates. Anybody interested in the topic should seek it out.

The themes of the book also align well with views previously featured from a 2019 newspaper column by retired University of Richmond biology professor, R. Dean Decker. Both are totally at odds with the wild predictions of Climate Armageddon that drive the Virginia Clean Economy Act, the upcoming Virginia debate over the Transportation and Climate Initiative carbon tax, and just about every Democratic political campaign in the Virginia and the U.S.

Shellenberger’s book is particularly important for the debate over carbon taxes such as the TCI compact, and the VCEA’s energy cost inflation, because with his worldwide experience and perspective he has seen the interrelationship of income poverty, energy poverty and damaging environmental exploitation. Saving the Earth and its flora and fauna require energy sufficiency – from more than just renewables – and energy-intensive modern agriculture.  It requires wealth and economic growth.  Continue reading

If You Pay Full Price for Flood Insurance, Ask our City/County Manager Why

Roanoke flooding in 1985

by James C. Sherlock

There were lots of comments in my last post about government programs to mitigate flooding damage in flood plains, specifically about buying and tearing down houses that repeatedly flood.

One of the carrots to do so is Community Rating System (CRS) discounts to flood insurance in communities that take an active role in flood plain risk mitigation.

CRS is a part of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).  It is an incentive program that recognizes and encourages community floodplain management activities that exceed the minimum program requirements.

When that happens, not only is the risk of flooding diminished, but flood insurance premium rates for all citizens of a community that accomplishes the goals are appropriately discounted to reflect the reduced flood risk.

To quote the program web page,

“For National Flood Insurance Program Community Rating System participating communities, flood insurance premium rates are discounted in increments of 5 percent.

Continue reading