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RICHMOND—Virginia is taking new steps to address climate change, launching the country’s strongest flood protections for state-owned property, under Executive Order Forty-Five that Governor Ralph Northam signed yesterday.
The Executive Order creates the Virginia Flood Risk Management Standard to improve flood protection in flood prone areas across the state, further encouraging smart and resilient construction of state buildings. It establishes a “freeboard” standard that increases protection of state-owned buildings in coastal and riverine floodplains. A first of its kind for any state, the standard incorporates science-based sea level rise projections that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has developed and adopted. The standard requires that state-owned buildings are built to certain elevation standards to protect them from flooding. The new standards will apply to all state-owned buildings authorized for construction after January 1, 2021.
“It is simply common sense to protect against the risk of flooding, because climate change is driving sea levels higher and making storms more intense,” said Governor Northam. “Flooding remains the most common and costliest natural disaster in Virginia and in the United States, and our state government is getting prepared. These standards will protect taxpayers by establishing critical protections for new state-owned property.”
This resilience standard measure comes one month after Governor Northam announced that the Commonwealth had negotiated the largest contract of any state to buy renewable energy to power state government. At least 30 percent of the electricity consumed by state agencies and institutions in Virginia will come from renewable sources by 2022.
The new Virginia Flood Risk Management Standard applies to flood prone areas throughout the state and continues an existing prohibition against developing state-owned buildings in flood-prone areas without a variance. When a variance is granted, buildings will need to build to the new Virginia Flood Risk Management Standard to prepare for future sea level rise conditions. The new standard projects “sea level rise inundation areas,” in addition to the “flood hazard areas” that are currently identified and mapped. The Order directs that state development in these areas must be elevated to a point that minimizes flood risk from tidal flooding, whether it is caused by sea level rise, rain, or both.
The below graphic shows elevation standards for new state-owned buildings in flood-prone areas. Flood-prone areas include sea level rise inundation areas as well 100- and 500-year floodplains as mapped by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“The new Virginia Flood Risk Management Standard is another step in Virginia’s ongoing efforts to protect life and property from climate change,” said Secretary of Natural Resources and Chief Resilience Officer Matthew J. Strickler. “Virginia is leading the nation, and this standard will protect Virginians from future costs that climate change will bring.”
Secretary Strickler spoke at the seventh annual conference of the Virginia Coastal Policy Center at the College of William & Mary today, where he announced that Governor Northam had signed Executive Order Forty-Five. The Governor addressed the conference last year and signed Executive Order Twenty-Four, which directed his Cabinet to develop this new policy and other actions to increase Virginia’s resilience to sea level rise and natural hazards.
This initiative fulfills commitments in Executive Order Twenty-Four, which is among the most comprehensive climate change protections undertaken by any state.
Executive Order Forty-Five also creates a workgroup to establish state-level National Flood Insurance Program complaint requirements for all development activities by state agencies on state-owned property. The Virginia Flood Risk Management Standard will become part of those requirements. In Virginia, the Department of Conservation and Recreation is the lead agency in coordinating implementation of the National Flood Insurance Program.
“Executive Order Forty-Five is a critical component of the Coastal Resilience Master Plan that we are working to complete,” said Rear Admiral (Retired) Ann C. Phillips, Special Assistant to the Governor for Coastal Adaptation and Protection. “This Order sets forth a necessary foundation as we finalize the first version of that plan in the months ahead.”
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