A New View of Flooding

Virginia Sea Grant and Clark Nexsen’s first joint coastal resiliency fellow connects communities through flood management

Michael Stelfox.

Michael Stelfox grew up in Edgewater, MD, a town cut up into peninsulas by creeks on the banks of the South River. He spent his weekends fishing with his dad and brother, while listening to the beachy jams of Jimmy Buffet.

This time spent on the water fostered his relationship with the outdoors in general. “I believe that people should be connected to each other, and to the natural environment,” he says.

Now, as the first joint Virginia Sea Grant and Clark Nexsen coastal resiliency fellow, Stelfox is designing green infrastructure for Virginia Beach that would do just that.

Stelfox studies landscape architecture as an undergraduate student at Virginia Tech. On May 16, he began working on a resiliency design project at the Virginia Beach office of Clark Nexsen, an architecture and engineering firm.

Through the coastal resiliency fellowship, Clark Nexsen trains undergraduate or graduate students from Virginian institutions to become leaders in innovative, pre-disaster resiliency design or coastal flooding adaptation strategies. Stelfox is excited about the wealth of resources he has access to at Clark Nexsen, especially the opportunity to “learn from great mentors” in his field.

“There’s lots being done here,” he notes. “I can stand on the shoulders of in-depth research, and build off it.”

Stelfox’s own work at Clark Nexsen centers around floodwater in Virginia Beach. The city’s current stormwater system, a series of storm drains and culverts that are supposed to manage rainfall runoff, are unable to handle all of the water dropped by storms. This leads to flooding.

But during his research, Stelfox noticed that recurrent flooding is occurring between parks. So he’s decided to design a green infrastructure system that will simultaneously prevent flooding and physically connect the parks. Green infrastructure manages rainfall runoff in a way that mimics nature.

His design will embrace excess water, spinning it into an advantage for the community—something that connects places and people—instead of a hindrance or danger.

Just as water flowed through Stelfox’s childhood, it now seems to be an important component of his professional life. “Water is a part of the fabric that makes up Virginia Beach, so let’s take advantage of it,” he emphasizes.

Learn more about Stelfox’s project on his website: http://resilientvb.wix.com/esnecklace

By Chris Patrick, science writer

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