Norfolk is ranked by the EPA as one of the most at-risk cities when it comes to flooding, second only to New Orleans. This year New Orleans was hit by a storm with as much as eight to 10 inches of rain that fell in just a few hours; the city’s 24 pumping stations couldn’t keep up. We’ve seen similar events recently in Norfolk, and the familiar resurgence of what many call Lake Olney, an area near the intersection of Olney Road and Boush Street that frequently floods for blocks in all directions.
Many residents look to those in positions of authority or leadership for answers in these times of crisis. The answers they get usually sound too much like political double-speak. ‘We hear you, and want you to know we are looking into solutions’, or the ubiquitous refrain ‘we will commission a study’. When people don’t get satisfaction from leadership, it quickly becomes fuel for water cooler talk. “You know what is causing this, right?” and “Enough with the studies; why can’t we find a solution?”
If elected to represent Norfolk in the House of Delegates, I will propose legislation instructing the Commonwealth Center for Recurrent Flooding Resiliency to coordinate with the Virginia Modeling and Simulation Center, VDOT, and local governments across the state to develop a unified framework and platform for developing and scoring all projects related to flood mitigation and stormwater management.
Some might wonder why the government should be taking the lead on these efforts away from the private sector. The answer is simple, it’s the data that drives the process and the government owns both the data and the means by which it is collected.
Cities across Virginia, including Norfolk and Virginia Beach, are currently in a mad dash to digitally map out their stormwater infrastructure using geographic information systems to make possible the kind of complex analyses needed to solve our future flooding problems. This information is combined and augmented by datasets maintained by the state and federal government and passed along to consultants who are paid millions of dollars to design and evaluate proposed projects. Sometimes this work can be repetitive while in other situations it can prove unnecessary as projects are abandoned or scrapped while still on the drawing board.
Our current way of thinking about solutions is outdated and ineffective. It’s time to change our calculus for dealing with sea level rise and develop the ability to plan and design mitigation and adaptation projects in house without the need for expensive outside consultants.
Once completed, this platform will allow local governments to save millions in consulting fees to plan and evaluate what will likely amount to the largest public works projects of this generation. It makes little sense for localities to reinvent the wheel over and over again each time a new project is proposed or problem identified. What Norfolk does to address flooding will have an impact on Virginia Beach and vice versa. My plan will allow for a regional and even statewide view of the effects these projects will have on neighborhoods, watersheds, and ecosystems that would be impossible to achieve with our current siloed approach. Effectively implementing and further marketing this product could even produce a net profit for the commonwealth, much as the Dutch do in exporting their expertise in dealing with these problems.
It is high time we elect leaders that don’t just state the obvious. We all know that these issues must be addressed. If you elect me this November, I bring these ideas to the table and will do everything in my power to ensure they are implemented in the most effective and efficient ways possible.