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The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Old Dominion University’s Institute for Coastal Adaptation and Resilience are teaming up to help prepare vulnerable Virginia communities for climate change.

The two-year collaboration was jumpstarted by state legislation last year and is meant to align with larger state goals outlined in documents such as the Coastal Resilience Master Plan.

“The challenges that are presented by climate change, and in particular sea level rise and increased inland flooding, they’re going to be with us for the foreseeable future,” said Jay Ford, the Bay Foundation's Virginia policy and grassroots advisor. 

“So it’s incumbent on us to help our communities adapt in a way that allows us to better live with the water.”

The new partnership adds to a growing list of local efforts focused on sea level rise, including by the ODU institute.

ICAR director Jessica Whitehead said the goal of this one is to build upon all that past and growing knowledge to “take that leap from science to action.”

“Our objective is to get beyond the traditional role of universities in providing useful information,” she said. “We have to help people, organizations, governments, businesses throughout the Commonwealth actually use that information to make progress.”

Their major strategy is to guide local government officials and connect them with federal and state grant funding for resilience work — especially cities and counties with fewer resources that are further behind on climate adaptation than major areas like Norfolk.

Historically, much of that funding  “has been biased towards communities with more resources, leaving many of our most at need citizens with impossible choices,” Ford said.

He said they plan to “meet communities where they are” and navigate processes that are often costly and complicated.

The group will train people in the local workforce to design and build projects that protect homes and businesses from increased flooding, through professional credentialing and academic degree programs at ODU. 

The school is also hiring a program manager and four new research faculty members to work on topics including resilient engineering, planning and the economics of natural resources.

Ford said the new work also fits into the foundation’s ongoing efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay. 

The nonprofit and others are part of a Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement under the Environmental Protection Agency that sets pollution reduction targets to reach by 2025. Officials have acknowledged they won’t reach those goals in time.

“We’re in many ways at a fork in the road,” Ford said.

Traditional coastal infrastructure designed to protect communities, like concrete walls, can have negative impacts on water quality, he said.

The foundation wants to push local officials to instead embrace nature-based design, like strategically placed wetlands, “and take a look at some of the static assumptions that underpinned our coastal planning and infrastructure.”