People think that a foot or two of sea level rise doesn't sound like much. But when infrastructure is involved, the costs become immense.
Norfolk, VA is facing huge, huge problems
from sea level rise:
The city hired a Dutch consulting firm to develop an action plan, finalized in 2012, that called for new flood gates, higher roads and a retooled storm water system. Implementing the plan would cost more than $1 billion — the size of the city’s entire annual budget — and protect Norfolk from about a foot of additional water.
As the city was contemplating that enormous price tag, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) last year delivered more bad news: If current trends hold, VIMS scientists said, by the end of this century, the sea in Norfolk would rise by 5.5 feet or more.
“Clearly, we’ve got more work to do,” said Ron Williams Jr., Norfolk’s assistant city manager for planning.
Yep. It doesn't seem like a good idea to spend $1 billion to protect the city from a one-foot SLR if the likely outcome is significantly more
SLR than that.
Options for dealing with the water are limited, and expensive. The city could protect itself with more barriers. Williams lamented, for instance, that a new $318 million light-rail system — paid for primarily with federal funds -- was built at sea level. With a little foresight, he said, the tracks could have been elevated to create a bulwark against the tides.
As it stands, the new rail system could itself be swept away, the money wasted. “Nowhere do we have resiliency built in,” he said.
A second option calls for people to abandon the most vulnerable parts of town, to “retreat somewhat from the sea,” as Mayor Paul D. Fraim put it in a 2011 interview, when he became the first sitting politician in the nation to raise the prospect.
One would think that local politicians seriously discussing whether to abandon parts of a major metropolitan area to the rising ocean
might cause people to start to take climate change seriously. But the human capacity for willfull blindness and self-delusion is remarkable, so I'm not optimistic.
Larry Atkinson, an oceanographer who is co-director of the Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Initiative at Old Dominion University, said when the mayor was asked about the report, he waved away the question. “He says, ‘I can’t think about five feet. What do you want me to do, move the whole city?’ ”
OK, then. Oceanographers say Norfolk could face anywhere from 1.5 feet to 7.5 feet of SLR by 2100 ... but the city's response will be to plan for 1 foot of SLR and hope for the best.
“By 2040, this will be flooded every high tide,” Atkinson said as he drove north on Hampton Boulevard. “That means the main road to the Navy base will be impassable two to three hours a day.”