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A new measure that will fund efforts to adapt to sea level rise went into effect Wednesday.

The Virginia Community Flood Preparedness Fund is a low-interest loan program that could provide cities with tens of millions of dollars to complete necessary flood mitigation projects.

Twenty-five percent of the money will be used for resilience efforts in low-income neighborhoods. The program will also prioritize nature-based solutions to the rising seas, such as installing new green space or restoring wetlands to absorb flood water.

“So many citizens may not be aware of the real need for funding for these types of projects,” said Elizabeth Andrews, director of the Virginia Coastal Policy Center at William & Mary Law School. “We haven’t had a lot of state funding up until this point. So this is an exciting development.”

The flood preparedness fund is one of many other measures passed by the General Assembly earlier this year that took effect Wednesday.

The fund will generate revenue as Virginia joins the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative — a collaboration of states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic that involves capping carbon emissions and then auctioning off credits to carbon emitters.

As part of House Bill 981, the proceeds from the auctions will pay for the Community Flood Preparedness Fund as well as other low-income energy efficiency funds.

The new flood funding will be available to all Virginia localities that experience coastal or river flooding. It will prioritize bigger projects that affect entire neighborhoods or multiple properties, such as creating a living shoreline.

Andrews noted the program is important because cities have struggled to fund sea level rise response efforts. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated that as municipalities have cut resilience funding in their budgets to make up for tax revenue shortfalls.

“The pressure on the localities is to fund the schools and the roads and the public safety, which are all very important,” Andrews said.

According to the Virginia Institute for Marine Science, Hampton Roads could experience more than a foot and a half of higher water levels by 2050 as sea level rise continues to accelerate due to climate change.

In an interview with Pew Trusts, State Sen. Lynwood Lewis  — an advocate of the new flood fund —  said investing in flood pre-disaster mitigation projects will save the state money.

“We know from research that society can, on average, save $6 for every $1 invested in projects that reduce risk before a disaster strikes,” he said.