Virginia City Plants Trees to Slow Flooding Woes

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) — In Ocean Lakes, 100 more trees will soon be popping up in yards throughout the flood-prone neighborhood in southern Virginia Beach, each gifted at no cost from a local environmental group.

And in nearby parks and other green areas, dozens of volunteers recently planted nearly 400 oaks and bald cypresses, among other trees, with plans for another 500 to be in place next year. This roughly $25,000 initiative was a partnership between one of the biggest homeowners associations in the city and Lynnhaven River NOW, a local environmental organization.

“We hope it’s the first of many,” said Karen Forget, who leads the group.

The goal is to slow flooding and the tree planting is a part of a broader initiative to create additional networks of forests near at-risk areas throughout Virginia Beach, which is just now getting started.

The city, along with a host of volunteers, has been busy planting trees, too. It added 800 trees in Ashville Park, a nearby neighborhood in the southern part of the city that has drawn criticism over its inadequate stormwater system.

Councilwoman Barbara Henley said it would only be roughly four years until the trees start providing significant benefits. Henley, whose district includes the Ashville Park area, said the recent reforestation was a statement that the city is moving forward with its green infrastructure solutions.

“Right now, we’re really not ready for the engineered solutions,” she said, calling them “very, very, very expensive.” Some have been estimated to cost billions of dollars.

So city officials and local environmentalists have turned to nature-based solutions, pitching them as a quick and inexpensive initial step in the city’s ambitious plans for how best to battle sea level rise and increasing flooding. It also aligns with the state’s priorities for how to prepare for more water.

Forget said it’s not realistic to think that planting more trees will eliminate all of Virginia Beach’s flooding woes, but that it can be done immediately, is cost effective and can have significant impacts in the short term.

Though Virginia Beach has areas in need of trees, it has an unusual amount of forested land for a city of its size, with some 3 million trees. They provide more than $250 million in savings and benefits to Virginia Beach each year, roughly a third of which comes from stormwater runoff reduction, according to the city’s urban forest management plan.

And these tracts of land play a significant role in the city’s fight against flooding _ managing hundreds of millions of gallons of water every day, according to the first phase of a recent study that examined Virginia Beach’s forests.

Henley, the Princess Anne councilwoman, has long advocated for the straightforward benefits of planting more trees throughout Virginia Beach, especially as seas continue to rise and rainfall becomes more intense. She has spearheaded the effort to examine how forests could help with the flooding that has been plaguing the southern, rural part of the city.

“I think we really have to appreciate the value of a Bald Cypress (tree),” she said.

Henley said the city will move forward with the second phase of the forestry study, too, which will help identify the specific areas that are most important for reducing flood risk. This could help the city determine which land is most important to save as the city, moving forward, considers trying to buy certain properties so the land could be reforested, Henley said.

But, for now, she and Forget said they would continue looking at reforesting smaller tracts of land, and to partner with other private groups. Many of the city’s most vulnerable areas can’t wait for the lengthy processes that some of the more ambitious engineered solutions have to go through, with funding, permitting and construction.

Tim Romo, the maintenance supervisor for the Ocean Lakes’ homeowners association, said it’s not unusual to see standing water on nearby roads for three or four days after a heavy rain. He said during a recent summer storm, he saw residents kayaking on one of the main roads.