Getting Serious about Flooding

Click image to enlarge. Source: Governor’s Office

by James A. Bacon

Everybody talks about the weather, as the old saying goes, but nobody does anything about it. Well, here in Virginia, people are getting serious about one aspect of the weather — flooding.

Last week Governor Ralph Northam issued an executive order, the Virginia Flood Risk Management Standard, to encourage the “smart and resilient construction of state buildings.” Based on sea-level rise projections developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the new standard requires state-owned buildings constructed after 2021 to be built at elevations that will protect them from flooding.

“Flooding remains the most common and costliest natural disaster in Virginia and in the United States, and our state government is getting prepared. These standards will protect taxpayers by establishing critical protections for new state-owned property,” Northam said in a press release.

Meanwhile, the City of Virginia Beach is grappling with the reality that it needs an extra $20 million a year to improve its stormwater infrastructure.

Currently, reports the Virginian-Pilot, the city has $55 million available for relevant capital improvement projects. Twenty-five million dollars are going to flood control, leaving $21.4 million for operation and maintenance. That level of funding has led to backlogs and delays in maintenance, leaving many communities more vulnerable. The extra $20 million requested by the public works department would be applied to shorten operations-and-maintenance work cycles, much of it on pipe rehabilitation. Another $5 million would reduce the backlog of cave-in repairs from eight months to two months, and start a roadside ditch project.

I’m not a big fan of more government spending, but stormwater control is a core government function, and state and local governments needs to focus on doing core functions well. Failure to properly maintain the stormwater system amounts to a hidden form of deficit spending. City Council needs to face up to the city’s core responsibilities.

What’s climate change for the goose is climate change for the gander… In justifying the new standards for state building projects, Northam said, “It is simply common sense to protect against the risk of flooding, because climate change is driving sea levels higher and making storms more intense.”

Northam needs to square the conviction that climate change is “making storms more intense” with his commitment to build a vast offshore wind farm as part of his drive to a 100% renewable energy electric grid by 2050. Dominion Energy is spending $300 million to build two “demonstration” wind turbines at an extraordinarily high cost per kilowatt hour. Yet, with the administration’s full encouragement, the utility is charging full-speed ahead on the regulatory front to build an $8 billion wind farm without knowing how well the demonstration turbines would stand up to hurricane-force winds. If storms are getting more intense, one might logically conclude, Virginia should be taking measures to protect its electric grid from that risk, not increasing its exposure to that risk.

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16 responses to “Getting Serious about Flooding

  1. No, storms are not getting more intense. People who claim to prove that are faking data, measuring storm intensity by economic damages (which of course do rise with development):
    https://wattsupwiththat.com/2019/11/16/no-hurricanes-are-not-bigger-stronger-and-more-dangerous/
    And then there is this on sea level rise, which is real (unlike the storm hysteria), but slow and steady:
    https://wattsupwiththat.com/2019/11/12/1-meter-of-sea-level-rise-now-inevitable-eventually/
    Yes, one meter, but by 2300, not 2100.
    Let the same old debate begin again.

    • To be clear, Steve, I agree with you.

      I’m just pointing out the governor’s inconsistency. If he really believes that storms are getting worse when it comes to justifying stricter building standards in flood zones, he should apply that logic to his thinking about offshore wind. But you never hear him talk about how storms are getting worse when he talks about offshore wind.

  2. What’s this ? Wisdom from Gov Blackface?

  3. Don’t build government buildings where flooding might wash them away.

    Brilliant!

    Do you think Obama might lend Northam his Nobel Peace Prize to celebrate this leap of understanding?

  4. Looks like Northam has already checked the science …
    Here is the offshore wind conclusion … The offshore region from Virginia to Maine was found to have the most exceptional overall resource with annual turbine capacity factors (CF) between 40% and 50%, shallow water and low hurricane risk.

    Re hurricanes: A recent technical study has concluded that while winds in the federal waters of the Bight are stronger and more uniform than the winds in state waters closer to the coast, … that current turbine standards “precludes any location south of Virginia from turbine development.”
    So … VA waters meet the test.

    The MID-ATALNTIC BIGHT, or the MAB, is a continuous, shallow platform of the continental shelf that runs roughly from Cape Cod, MA to Cape Hatteras in North Carolina. The Bight’s low water depth and its proximity to the populous East Coast makes the Bight nearly perfect for offshore wind development.

    Bight wind farms could produce the equivalent of 70% of America’s current electricity generation. The Bight’s offshore wind energy potential exceeds the regions current demand of 73 GW of electricity by 400+%. AND electricity produced offshore from would reduce by 68% the region’s CO2 emissions, a figure that can stabilize our atmosphere and maintain energy and financial security. (Stanford University and the University of Delaware Report)

    There is also a study from Stanford that says offshore wind turbines can actually slow the force of an incoming hurricane if those turbines are placed properly.

    Finally, William and Mary Law and their Virginia Coastal Policy Center are doing good work. So is Norfolk … “Environmental issues are so close to people in Norfolk and Hampton Roads; it doesn’t matter if you are Democrat or Republican.”

    Norfolk’s 2030 comprehensive plan, green infrastructure plan, and resilience zoning code are the primary ways in which the city is moving. George Homewood, Norfolk’s planning director, said that zoning requirements are a “blunt instrument” so they have developed a zoning system that itemizes “must do’s, should do’s, and nice to do’s (bonuses) for developers.”

    Requirements differ depending on the expected level of risk to water rise, but must-do’s include green infrastructure for stormwater management, risk reduction through raising homes by 3-feet above flood levels, and energy self-sufficiency. The zoning ordinance seems critical to achieving the city’s ambitious green infrastructure plan, which also fits together with the vision and 2030 plan.

    Here is a very different write up than Whatsupwiththat … https://therevelator.org/virginia-sea-level-rise/ By 2050 sea level is likely to be another foot higher, according to recent estimates from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. All the interacting natural processes as well as all the groups attempting to analyze and deal with the facts are discussed.

    • The charts I’ve seen are very persuasive – sea level rise measured in millimeters per decade, perhaps another foot by 2100. Now, Hampton Roads (like Venice for that matter) is also sinking, largely due to groundwater withdraw. Things will move faster there. Funny how the panic is focused on areas of subsidence, but the subsidence usually not mentioned. That article you linked to does mention it prominently, but it sure was missing in all the coverage of the recent floods in Venice (which were worse in 1966).

  5. I’m not sure Bacon would agree but offshore wind turbines are fleas on a dogs butt in terms of great swaths of coast Virginia and rivers.

    I’m quite sure the folks who build them will take into account weather and climate …

    but again, those things are tiny, tiny projects compared to the enormity of cities and towns and counties that might be inundated and have thousands of structures that were built decades ago way before anyone knew about “changing” climate and weather.

    The offshore wind project has a limited number of folks involved in the economics of it – including hurricanes. But places like Virginia Beach and Hampton, Portsmouth and others have billions of dollars of publically-financed infrastructure that is at risk.

    Putting houses on stilts is easy -not cheap -but what do you do with roads, water and sewer, etc..???

    An offshore wind turbine getting destroyed would be no fun for sure – but how about what happens when Ocaracoke Island goes 7 foot under?

  6. If its true that Hurricanes are not any worse than before – then now is the idea time for the government to stop subsidizing flood insurance and let the private sector decide if economic losses are worst or not.

    I’d be very impressed, perhaps even persuaded if the deniers demanded that the govt stop subsidizing flood insurance!

    • OK. The government should stop subsidizing flood insurance. The risk should be fully priced. I think Jim agrees. Storms are not more frequent or more powerful, but with all the oceanfront and water front development the damages are certainly greater.

      • Steve – you know they can adjust pre-2019 dollars to 2019 dollars, right? It’s that way in the Wiki article that ranks the most expensive hurricanes.

        The other thing you’ll notice if you go look is how there are many more recent ones – even after adjusting for the dollars.

        And if you get the govt out of it – and the private sector takes over insurance -how do they assess risk? How do they know what rates to charge? Isn’t that economic also? So what is the “right” way to rank hurricanes?

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_costliest_Atlantic_hurricanes

        But if you don’t rank them by economic cost – how would you rank them instead?

  7. Conceptually, this makes good sense. If we expect higher water levels, Comp Plans, zoning ordinances, building codes and other related regulations need to be changed to reflect the expected change in water levels.

  8. My point is simply: If you believe that there will be significant rise in sea levels, take appropriate action to limit and prevent foreseeable damages from higher sea levels. It’s a heck of a lot easier to demand everyone live in 500-square foot apartments, eat clover, give up one’s car and bow to 13-year-old children than it is to adopt and enforce tough new measures in Comp Plans, zoning ordinances and building codes.

    The former tries to punish all for the great secular religion and allows for great virtue signaling. But the latter steps on specific individuals’ toes.

    I also believe that everyone’s projections and analyses should be tested vigorously. And that includes testing credibility based on prior projections and analyses.

  9. Well.. the problem is that people do not believe the govt and science – on the issue. The whatsupwiththat site is a climate denier site that claims that the data is wrong and/or is interpreted wrong – and people believe it even though they do not offer their own predictions from which people could then base planning on. So there is no agreement on what kind of planning should be done, how it should be funded and what is the responsibility of the property owners – especially when it comes to flood insurance.

    If you don’t believe the govt and science – WHO do you BELIEVE? Do you just deny it and say no planning is needed?

    That’s my frustration with the deniers and skeptics. They’re pretty sure the science is wrong but they have no alternative path forward.. it’s just to deny.

    • Deny and ignore. Not just deny. There is no path forward required if nothing outside of natural variation is going on. The geological record is clear, it has been this hot and far hotter, it has been far colder, there are big long cycles that explain most if not all of this, and smart people don’t build right on the shoreline unless it is a second home :). Even if all the panic is well founded, the developing world is happily building more and more coal and natural gas generation, buying cars and eating more meat, and pumping CO2 into the air faster than the “woke” nations remove it. If the bad predictions are right, we’re screwed anyway!

      I believe peer reviewed science based on experiments that can be duplicated and verified. This whole game is run with models and assumptions.

      • What? Me Worry? That is the most depressing statement! The argument that what we do doesn’t matter is one I have read for years from fossil fuel PR … so let’s put the blame where it belongs, not on the developing countries who are continually sold a bill of immediately ‘in hand’ monies for their resources, but on the companies grabbing all they can before the world makes them stop.

        First, there are only five countries that produce more than 4% of GHG every year. China is the leader at 27.5%, the US next at 14.75%, the EU at 9.33%, India at 6.43% and Russia at 4.86%. What we do matters. So does what China does and they are taking good steps to redirect their energy economy. One example… hundreds of thousands of electric buses are on China’s roads compared with our 650. Russia is on the list primarily because Putin has built the Russian economy on oil and gas resource development and sales.

        So, let’s talk about fossil fuels in this global market … The ‘carbon bubble’ remains: “global proved reserves of fossil fuels still significantly exceed that which can be burned to stay within Paris limits. The majors need to significantly reduce emissions from oil and gas production over the next two decades by on average 40% by 2040 compared to 2019 levels.” (Carbon Tracker report)

        In the three years since most of the world’s nations signed on to the Paris climate agreement, major oil and gas companies have poured more than $100 billion into their fossil-fuel infrastructure. Not only that, they also spend $200 million annually lobbying against clean energy laws while publicly supporting Paris … “The pledges made at last year’s Paris Accord create an effective framework for all countries to address rising emissions”. (Exxon) That backing comes with the idea that coal will be supplanted by natural gas whose leases they are buying up.

        The Climate Accountability Institute claims that a mere 20 corporations are responsible for 1/3 of all carbon emissions since 1965. Eight, topped by Chevron, are investor owned. Watching the ongoing Climate lawsuits, these companies have known what Climate Change is about. Beginning in the 1990’s the American Petroleum Institute promoted a false challenge to climate science, designed to create doubt, the basis of some of those suits.

        Finally, the continued expansion of fossil extraction belongs to the majors. Russia got the technology to drill in the seas in Northern Russia from Exxon. Many countries have opened their resources to majors and only a few actually benefit while the country remains in poverty. This version of capitalism we are spreading throughout the world is not in our long-term interest in addition to the climate problem.

        I do not know the answer, but it sure isn’t … so what!

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