ONE CLEAR GOAL: RESILIENCE
Few regions combine natural beauty, rich history, livable neighborhoods and proximity to major cities to the same degree that the localities of Virginia’s George Washington Region enjoy. The city of Fredericksburg and Stafford, Spotsylvania, Caroline and King George counties have a lot of enviable features, including vast public parks, protected lands rich in beauty and natural resources, strong schools, a central downtown business district that has remained vital since before the American Revolution. The thriving economy that draws its strength from the federal government to the north, proximity to Interstate 95 and a growing entrepreneurial culture within the region itself.
Resilience is the capacity to become strong, healthy, successful or productive again after something bad happens. For communities that wish to attract high-quality employers and to retain an optimum quality of life for their residents, this is crucial. When we talk about resilience in this plan, we are talking about the ability of this Region’s basic infrastructure— its wetlands and forests, open spaces and agricultural lands, roads, water and electric utilities, communications networks, emergency services, healthcare institutions, government and commerce to regain functionality after a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, drought or sustained resource shortage.
What’s at stake?
There is ample evidence that the world as we know it is changing. These changes will challenge our natural resources. They are already bringing weather events that disrupt our daily lives and our region’s economy. The more we as a region do to anticipate and prevent the effects of these events, the more resilient we will be.
- In the winter of 2009-2010, a series of heavy snow events familiarly known as “Snowmageddon” wiped out state and local budgets for road treatment, and tested our abilities to keep the most vulnerable populations sheltered and connected. The winter of 2014 disrupted schools for long periods.
- On June 29, 2012, a severe thunderstorm we now know as a “derecho” hit our area hard. More than 100,000 people in the Fredericksburg area lost electricity. The storm caused the largest non- hurricane power outage in Virginia history, and the fifth-largest overall.
- The George Washington Region’s geographic position, right on the line that divides Virginia’s coastal plain from its piedmont, gives it great natural diversity, but it also puts us at risk for loss due to increasing storm surges from more intense hurricanes and other storms, and from rising sea levels.
- If Hurricane Sandy’s 6-meter storm surges had hit the George Washington Region, large areas of land, including homes, farms, roads and other important assets, would have been underwater
- Rising cost for mandatory flood insurance for properties near the Rappahannock River could stifle economic development downtown. Flooding threats also apply to residential and commercial properties along the Rappahannock and Potomac rivers in Spotsylvania, Stafford, King George and Caroline counties.
At a Nov. 14 community planning meeting organized by CLEAR, Prof. Grant Woodwell of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Mary Washington shared the following findings:
- Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850, according to a 2013 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. By the end of the 21st century, global surface temperature change is likely to exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius, and could exceed 2 degrees Celsius.
- Sea level has risen more drastically since the mid-19th century than it had during the previous two millennia, according to the IPCC report. During the 21st century, sea level is expected to rise faster than it did from 1971 to 2010, due to increased ocean warming and increased melting of glaciers and ice sheets.
- Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years, according to the IPCC report.
- A 2012 report from Munich RE found that weather risks are changing faster in North America than anywhere else in the world, and that extreme weather phenomena cause rising damage each year.
- Federally declared weather-related disasters since 2007 have affected counties containing nearly 243 million people, or almost four out of five Americans, according to a 2013 report from Environment America.
- The United States is simultaneously experiencing more extreme rain events and higher risk of drought, according to Environment America.
Woodwell concluded from his research that the George Washington Region should expect the following in the future:
- More frequent, and more intense, precipitation events punctuated by deeper episodes of drought.
- Drier winter and summer seasons, which could deplete reservoirs and challenge agricultural production.
- Unprecedented storm surges along tidal portions of the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers, caused by rising sea level and stronger Atlantic tropical storms.
- Stronger storms coming at a greater frequency, which may threaten lives, damage infrastructure and cause significant power outages.
- Increasing summer heat waves that could threaten public health.