Sea level rise and flooding are a growing part of Virginians’ lives, but the Commonwealth’s resources to contend with these threats are scattered across multiple government agencies.
New legislation scheduled for a key committee vote in the Virginia General Assembly on February 7 unifies the government’s climate change resources and adds oversight to flood protection funding.
To access resources that proactively address flooding and sea level rise, local communities navigate a patchwork system of state offices and programs. At the same time, the two state funds supporting flood protection needed greater transparency to ensure limited resources are maximizing their return on investment for the Commonwealth.
Those were the recent findings of a group of 39 stakeholders including representatives from nonprofit, academia, government and industry organizations. The group met as part of a yearlong effort to enhance the state’s framework for dealing with climate change threats.
A major outcome of those efforts recently got a boost from state lawmakers. HB 1458, introduced by Del. Phil Hernandez, cleared the House Chesapeake Subcommittee Feb. 5 by a 10-0 vote and is expected to be considered by the House Agriculture and Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee Feb. 7.
“This is critical legislation to get Virginia closer to a climate-ready Commonwealth. Localities need a comprehensive approach to protect their homes and businesses from increased flooding. This hub and spoke approach better supports the praiseworthy efforts of communities across the state while maximizing the value of state investments,” Hernandez said.
At the core of the legislation is the centralization of climate resiliency efforts through the creation of the Office of Commonwealth Resilience, which would be nested under the Governor. It also increases transparency and oversight over the distribution of money from the Community Flood Preparedness Fund and Resilient Virginia Revolving Fund.
Communities from Southwest Virginia to Fairfax to the Eastern Shore have tapped hundreds of millions of dollars from these funds to support community-scale projects to help with increased flooding.
By merging climate adaptation efforts, the legislation gives local and state officials the ability to maximize federal, state, and private flood mitigation funding.
“This is a major step in the right direction to better protect Virginians from climate change impacts already here and on the horizon. Unfortunately, flooding is only becoming more frequent. This legislation acknowledges that these issues are more than just natural resource issues, but public safety and economic issues as well,” said Chesapeake Bay Foundation Virginia Policy and Grassroots Advisor Jay Ford, who was a member of the stakeholder group.