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Evolving resilience plans for long-term safety

Residents of Norfolk, VA, are no strangers to flooding. Major storms regularly cause the Elizabeth River to spill into and overwhelm an outdated stormwater drainage system. Hazards from flooded streets and sidewalks to fully submerged roadways are a common sight.

Thanks to the constant flood risk, the city is already considered one of the country’s top performers in flood protection and sustainability. But with an eye on continually rising sea levels, officials recognized that evolving the city’s resilience plans would ensure the long-term safety of people, homes and businesses. 

When the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) launched the National Resilience Development Competition (NRDC) in 2014, city leaders saw a chance to begin building the model coastal city of the future.

Mitigating flood risk from multiple angles

Norfolk partnered with Arcadis resilience experts to develop its NRDC application. In June 2015, Dutch Dialogues brought together Arcadians and city stakeholders to strategize flood resilience innovations that would maximize benefits to citizens.

With the area being so prone to floods – the city is second only to New Orleans in terms of the number of people threatened by rising sea levels – plans had to expand beyond the pumps, gates and levees that most water management plans focus on. The team highlighted the ways proposed solutions would create a more interconnected and equitable city, where all neighborhoods could access critical infrastructure, facilities and Norfolk’s robust city center.

HUD awarded $120.5 million to Norfolk to transform the Ohio Creek Watershed, one of the team’s two proposed projects. Our specialists helped city leaders develop work packages for program management, design and environmental permitting. After securing the design role, Arcadians re-engaged stakeholders to confirm the design would optimize return on investment.

Flexibility was key to keeping the project on schedule, as HUD’s funding came with a limited time frame. After a few months of design, Norfolk switched from a traditional bid-build model to a construction manager at risk model. Our designers worked carefully to apply construction manager feedback in accordance with the city’s goals and budget every step of the way.

Water engineers strategized shoreline defense solutions as well as ways to capture rainfall, raise roadways and minimize erosion. Considerations were made to ensure construction would have a minimal impact on people and their surroundings. The unique approach even considered the aesthetics, blending stormwater infrastructure into the current environment. Plans leveraged natural solutions such as rain barrels and gardens, pervious pavement and wetland areas to increase resilience without disturbing existing landscapes and infrastructure.

With the design complete, our experts switched gears to construction administration. Arcadians will oversee requests for information, submittals, design changes, site planning and permitting throughout the build.

A model of coastal resilience

By applying leading-edge techniques for water management, landscape architecture, flood protection and urban design, Norfolk is taking a bold step toward being a model of coastal resilience. The Ohio Creek Watershed project will serve as a proof of concept for innovative adaptation capabilities, and city leaders hope to turn Norfolk into a “living lab” for testing innovative flood resilience solutions.

With a stronger shoreline defense and stormwater management strategy in place, the city will maintain its place a premier model for coastal resilience. Waterfront development can continue to thrive, and citizens can rest easier knowing they will be safeguarded against ever-rising sea levels. 

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