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Working Today, for a Better Tomorrow

Elizabeth Andrews and Peggy Sanner spoke about sea level rise and water pollution at the second First Tuesday talk hosted by the VCPC.

Speakers urge Virginian community to address water problems

Attendees of the First Tuesday talks given by Elizabeth Andrews and XXXXXXXXX ©Jesse Granger/VASG

Attendees of the First Tuesday talk hosted by the Virginia Coastal Policy Center.  ©Jesse Granger/VASG

By VCPC correspondent Jesse Granger

For Virginia’s Hampton Roads, a heavy rain is more than just an inconvenience. It incurs damage to property, and it has the potential to endanger the people who live in these areas. Hampton Roads is the second area most affected by sea level rise in the United States—the first being New Orleans. When it rains in Hampton Roads, flood waters wash through the intersections, swamping cars, washing away unsecured signs and traffic cones, and forcing pedestrians to wade ankle, knee or even waist deep through the water.

We need to act now

“We need to act, and we need to act now,” says Elizabeth Andrews, the director of the Virginia Coastal Policy Center (VCPC) at the second First Tuesday talk hosted by the VCPC on October 4 at William & Mary’s Muscarelle Museum of Art. Sea level rise is a major cause of the flooding problem facing Hampton Roads. “As a society we tend to be pretty bad at planning ahead. We wait until a problem has already hit us before we try to address it, and that’s the issue we are facing with sea level rise. We’ve put some work into trying to address it, but it is going to get worse, and we can’t wait until some point in the future to start dealing with these problems.”

Virginia has already put some thought into dealing with the rising water levels. Several federal grants have been put towards analyzing the problem, making some communities more flood resistant. The Dutch Dialogues were held  between representatives from Norfolk, Hampton and Newport News and the government of the Netherlands, to talk about effective planning for sea level rise. There also is a collaborative effort currently underway to create a one-stop online website called AdaptVA, which will contain all the information on sea level rise and adaptation measures that lawmakers and localities need to make informed decisions to address recurrent flooding.

Unfortunately, these efforts may not be enough to save Virginian communities like Tangier Island. For Tangier the question is no longer if their homes will become flooded, but when. And flooding is not the only issue currently facing Virginia’s coasts; cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay from years of degradation is another top priority.

“We have made some progress towards trying to clean up the Bay; however, it has been slow,” adds Peggy Sanner, the Virginia Assistant Director and Senior Attorney of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, who co-presented with Andrews at the talk. Her work focuses on legislation put in place to try to decrease the pollutants entering our watersheds.

Several laws have been passed over the past 45 years to try to improve water quality, starting with the Clean Water Act in 1972. The problem is that the Bay states have continually failed to reach benchmarks set to lower pollutants, and lawmakers have had to extend deadlines to allow the states the time to make changes. But the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, or “pollution diet’, issued by the federal Environmental Protection Agency is forcing the states to make progress.

They may seem like insurmountable tasks, but a lot of evidence says that it’s feasible to address sea level rise and to clean up the Bay. If Virginia continues to stay the course, communities will enjoy marked improvements both for themselves and for coming generations. “This problems are here, today,” said Andrews. “Let’s deal with it.”