Forum 10 (Oct. 30, 2015): Beyond Toolkits – Adaptation Strategies and Lessons

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Forum 10 (Oct. 30, 2015): Beyond Toolkits – Adaptation Strategies and Lessons

Experts may not have all the answers about how to prepare for flooding and sea level rise, but they know many of the right questions.

Michelle Covi (VASG-ODU) shares responses from a recent survey as she welcomes attendees to the October 30 Hampton Roads Adaptation Forum. ©Janet Krenn/VASG

Michelle Covi (VASG-ODU) shares responses from a recent survey as she welcomes attendees to the October 30 Hampton Roads Adaptation Forum. ©Janet Krenn/VASG

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By Janet Krenn, Staff Writer

Experts may not have all the answers about how to prepare for flooding and sea level rise, but they know many of the right questions. During an October 30 session of the Hampton Roads Adaptation Forum, “Adaptation Strategies and Lessons,” the presenters walked through the questions they use to help communities and clients explore options for adapting to sea level rise.

“In the two months I’ve been here, I’ve already experienced three flood events,” said one presenter, Diane Horn, a researcher from Birkbeck College, University of London. “Once you know you have a problem, what options do you have?”

Horn shared a decision tree of questions that she’s developing to help communities work through both policy options and structural choices, two key aspects to adaptation problem-solving.

“The challenges around resilience aren’t’t primarily revolving the science,” says Don Kranbuehl, an architect with Clark Nexsen. “The challenges revolve more on getting people to work together.”

Don Kranbuehl shared his experience designing a facility for the University of North Carolina’s Coastal Studies Institute on the Eastern Shore. The area is already known to flood. So, instead of trying to keep out the water with barricades, the architects chose a raised design that would keep the institute’s interiors high and dry.

Using renewable energy was another project goal. The design team came up with three options utilizing geothermal energy. Two of them involved building wells that penetrated deep into the ground. The third option “borrowed” untreated well water from neighboring Dare County, harvested the heat for use on campus, and then returned the water to the county to be treated.

To Kranbuehl, the third option—borrowing water that is slated for a later use—was the “obvious choice,” since it produced a second benefit from water that was already being brought up from the aquifer and more importantly, it helped protect the local fresh water aquifer by not digging more wells that could penetrate into the local fresh water aquifer. In addition to being more environmentally responsible, it was also the most cost effective option. As a less conventional choice, it did pose some possible legal challenges and required multiple public entities working together to arrive at a memorandum of understanding. Still, it was ultimately the chosen option. Today the Coastal Studies Institute utilizes ground water from Dare County and returns it to its neighbor for use.

That could be why Diane Horn’s decision tree includes as many questions about political will and individual interests as there are questions about physical constraints.

As a community works through her diagram, it seeks to answer each item with a yes or no. If many of the answers are no, the final question might be: Is it possible to live with flooding? Are there policy options that can help?

“If the answer is no, then you need to consider relocation,” she explains.

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