Case Study
Virginia: Tidewater Area
Water Resource Strategies and Information Needs in Response to Extreme Weather/Climate Events

Water Trends
Tidewater Virginia is subject to storm surges,
tidal flooding, hurricanes, and nor'easters.
Since 1 970, there have been ten significant
storms, the majority since 2003. Significant
storms are predicted to become more frequent.
The lower Tidewater area is second in the con-
tinental US for risk of hurricanes, storms, and
sea level rise (SLR). Risks are high because of
area population growth and national security
assets. Relative SLR is accelerated by land
subsidence due to compaction of underlying
soil formations, and groundwater withdrawal.
The Sewell's Point gage at the Norfolk Naval
Station has recorded a sea level rise of 14.5
inches since the late 1 920s. Scientists predict
a local relative SLR of 1.5-feet in the next 40
years and three feet by 2100.
The region is subject to saltwater intrusions
into fresh water. SLR threatens the coastal
ecosystem, with potential loss of 50% - 70%
of wetlands. With 85% of Virginia's shoreline
privately owned, this has economic implications
for residents, commerce, military installations,
and utility services.
Governing Structures
The Hampton Roads Sanitation District (HRSD)
is the only sanitation district in Virginia. HRSD
owns the treatment plants; the cities own the
collection systems and are responsible for
stormwater management. Virginia has 21
planning districts, but local governments make
all land use decisions. While every locality
has a comprehensive land management
plan, some allow development in flood-
prone areas.
Naval Facilities (NAVFAC) Engineering
Command Mid-Atlantic is responsible for
design, construction, and maintenance of
Navy facilities but gets its water and waste-
water services from the municipal systems,
as do the other military installations in the
Tidewater area.
The Story in Brief
"Tidewater" is the eastern Virginia coastal plain where the James, Rappahannock, and York Rivers join the
Chesapeake Bay. Within the lower Tidewater there are four cities (Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, and
Virginia Beach), rural and small communities, military installations including the world's largest naval station
(the Norfolk Naval Base), and a large state-owned cargo port. Three metropolitan drinking water utilities and
one sanitation district serve 1.7 million people. The region has many wildlife refuges and recreational beaches,
alongside areas of dense development. All of this sits at an average 33 feet above sea level, posing
challenges to the area's water and wastewater utilities and to the delicate balance between fresh and
salt water in the estuarine environment, especially in light of heightened storm threats.
Hurricanes, Nor'easters, and Sea Level Rise (SLR)
In 2003, Hurricane Isabel, a slow-moving storm, stalled over the York River during high tide causing storm
surges to reach record highs. Isabel killed 36 people in Virginia and caused more than $1.8 billion in damage,
cutting off electricity for 1.8 million customers. Again in 2009, Nor'easter Ida caused some of the worst damage
ever experienced in the area. Ida lasted six tidal cycles with winds pushing water above the 4.5-foot flood stage
and creating surges over 6.7 feet.
Given this history, in August 201 1, before Hurricane
Irene's predicted arrival at Hampton Roads, Virginia's
governor declared a state of emergency. The US
Navy sent dozens of ships to sea, universities closed,
ferries were stopped, both mandatory and voluntary
evacuations were ordered, and water/wastewater utilities
activated their emergency response plans. The storm
stalled over the area. By high tide, storm surges over 7.5
feet at Sewell's Point were recorded.
"Local governments are faced with the realities
of sea level rise and coastal storm impacts and
they are in need of solutions and assistance to
deal with these challenges."
Dr. Carl Hershner, Director of the Center
for Coastal Resources Management, VIMS
On August 25 and 28, 2012, two "short-fuse" nor'easters
hit the same 30-square-mile area with high rainfall (2-3 inches/hour) over a short period (2-4 hours), each exceeding a
"hundred-year" event.
The most widespread impacts from these events were flooding and power failures. Uprooted trees triggered water
line breaks requiring expensive repairs. Isabel caused 250 of 400 small wastewater pump stations to lose power. Ida
caused 60% of Virginia Beach's outfalls to fill with silt and caused a partial dam failure on the Chickahominy River. At
the Norfolk Naval Base, the storms caused base and roadway flooding, over-topped piers, disrupted utilities, eroded
the shore line, caused pier and bulkhead scour, destabilized the ground, and increased loads on structures.
Water and wastewater facilities built on shorelines are particularly vulnerable. Coastal erosion is affecting
infrastructure. SLR is causing salinity of inland water sources, and utilities are recording salt water at their intakes.
Newport News raised its reservoir water level one foot to keep freshwater upstream and brackish tidal water
downstream. SLR inhibits drainage, raising risks from disease vectors like mosquitoes.
Water Utility and Community Response
The severity and frequency of recent storms have motivated localities to collaborate for both acute emergencies and
long-term planning by conducting what-if and worst-case scenario analyses and tabletop exercises to consider asset
and operational vulnerability. Utility managers share information and seek common funding sources and methods.
To prepare for acute events, local utilities have adopted "action tables" for each wastewater facility on how to respond
based on various storm tide levels. After-action reports help managers refine emergency operations, review water
levels and flows, and evaluate operational performance. Utilities and other agencies identify critical redundancy needs,
such as deploying portable backup pumps and generators prior to events. Widespread dependence on cell phones,
which themselves are dependent on electricity, has prompted use of system backups for operations, and utilities are
working to align plans with private-sector telecom providers to ensure reliability. Innovative mechanisms have
A series of workshops focusing on extreme events and water resources, co-sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA), US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF), Water
Research Foundation (WaterRF), Concurrent Technologies Corporation (CTC), and NOBLIS.

Lessons Learned
	What-if and worst-case scenario
planning can help prioritize budgets
and future response actions.
	Solutions require sensitivity to
people's values and concerns.
	Hard asset locations should be
assessed and operational
"brain centers" moved from
at-risk areas.
	Tools for rapid communication are
essential for controlling messages
and ensuring quick and appropriate
emergency responses.
	Local communities need flexibility
to implement local solutions.
	Engineering design standards must
be based on the reasonableness of
expected levels of service, sensitivity
of facilities, criticality of assets,
and budgets.
	Backup power must be provided for
critical systems and communications.
	Real-time data and alerts, which can
be shared among fusion centers, and
emergency operations centers, must
be accessible.
Useful Tools and Resources
	Virginia Interoperability Picture for
Emergency Response (VIPER) - a
GIS-based platform that links data
	WebEOC - a web-based emergency
operations center, run by the
Virginia Department of Emergency
	Water Agency Response Network
Information Needs
	Improved forecasts for short-term
and less-intense storms, especially
at a local level
	Socioeconomic impact studies
	More sophisticated models that
include different elevations and
levels of inundation and that
incorporate SLR, precipitation,
bathymetry, storm surges,
high tides, hurricanes, and
	Public education on risks and
differences between flooding
and storm surges
	Information and incentives to help
land- and home-buyers make
educated decisions about their
	Guidance to water and wastewater
facilities on how to incorporate new
information on SLR estimates in
their planning approaches and on
understanding what HAS happened
versus what COULD happen
	Grants to help smaller communities
been adopted to disseminate information to the public, including the Norfolk Flooding Website (an emergency
alert system), Facebook, and Twitter.
To increase long-term resilience, Norfolk is redesigning its 60-year-old drainage system. Inserts in manhole covers
help reduce infiltration into sewer lines. Water systems are monitored for saltwater intrusion, and an aggressive
effort is underway to identify and remove trees that can take down power lines or pull up and damage v/ater
lines. To prevent damage from repetitive flooding, managers are raising control panels, installing watertight doors and
hatches, and moving portable equipment to higher ground during storms. Dam managers are improving overflow
structures to relieve pressure, and they have an active inspection program to prevent damage from trees and rodents.
Looking Forward
Utilities are grappling with environmental challenges,
aging infrastructure, and a struggling economy along
with a changing climate. Critical high-cost investment
priorities are causing utilities to reach limits set by
US EPA's Affordability Guidelines and are stretching
communities' ability to pay.
Nonetheless, there is a growing awareness of the need to
manage risk and to take a proactive approach to protect-
ing current assets and preserving ecosystem functions. The
Tidewater region is deploying new and more sophisticated
technologies. For example, they are undertaking compre-
hensive LIDAR (light detection and ranging) airborne laser
mapping that they will combine with ground topography
and elevation mapping to help citizens identify their risks
and to improve floodplain management.
(Top) The cost of raising one block of housing above flood
level is about $1.2 million in Norfolk, VA. (Middle)
FEMA's flood hazard map of Virginia Beach shows how
floods threaten areas. (Bottom) Sea level rise scenarios
show four estimates based on 201 2 National Climate
Assessment global scenarios. Even a conservative estimate
(green) predicts a 1.5-foot (0.5 m) SLR by 2052.
The Naval base's strategic importance and position,
sixteen feet above sea level, has prompted it to
incorporate SLR into its Master Plan, Region Shore
Infrastructure Plans (RSIP), and Global Shore Infrastructure
Plan (GSIP). Measures being evaluated include building
new unloading decks with utility lines and shutoff valves
safely above potential water levels, adapting existing
infrastructure with flood walls around dry docks and
installing tide gates, raising pier elevations, and siting
facilities out of impacted areas. The Navy is engaging
in shoreline protection projects, including adopting low
impact development to reduce runoff. It has expanded
its damage assessment teams and emergency operations center and is
working with the local community on areas of mutual concern. However,
challenges abound. For example, the Navy can elevate buildings and
land, but must consider load-bearing capacity of underlying
infrastructure, base access, and utilities on and off base.
Water managers expressed a need to raise the
public's understanding of the difference between
impacts and responses to tropical storms vs. nor'easters
so that public and private solutions are effective in both
cases. The public also needs access to accurate and
timely information for decision making.
2030 ,, 2060
Virginia promotes regional collaboration and intergov-
ernmental relationships through active regional plan-
ning commissions and citizen boards, such as HRSD
and Hampton Roads Planning District Commission. Engaging area utilities, including those in rural areas, has
the potential to increase the effectiveness of a coordinated regional approach to building resilience.
SE Virginia sea level rise scenarios
TT 6
1 4
H 3
The Navy is an important actor and its installations are an integral part of the regional planning process. The Virginia
Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) and Virginia Emergency Management Association (VEMA) are important partners in
understanding and responding to risk from extreme events. The work of VIMS and the Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality in promoting living shorelines to control ecosystem erosion is a vital aspect of adaptive planning.
Although limits exist on what individual water utilities can do given their resources, understanding, and authority, they are
increasingly integrating their resources and strengthening their relationships with other water managers, private service
providers, and federal and other agencies, thus increasing their resilience and further minimizing risks.
To learn more about how the water sector is responding to extremes, visit: rams/ClimateSocietallnteractionsCSI/SARPProgram/ExtremeEventsCaseStudies.aspx
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