Report: Sea Level Rise in Hampton Roads, Va. Will Exact A Profound Economic Toll Unless Adaptive Measures Taken

Hampton Roads region examined in the study includes 16 counties, cities in Southeastern Virginia

Virginia Beach- Hampton Roads (small)

HAMPTON ROADS, Virginia— A new research report by RTI International projects that absent any adaptive measures, sea level rise could exact a profound economic toll on the Hampton Roads region over the next 50 years, more than tripling the annual flood damages and economic impacts from coastal storms by the year 2060. The study, titled “The Costs of Doing Nothing,” was commissioned by the Virginia Coastal Policy Center (VCPC) at William & Mary Law School.

The Hampton Roads region examined in the study includes 16 counties and cities in Southeastern Virginia, including the cities of Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Hampton, Chesapeake, and Newport News.

“We are hopeful that this study will serve as an important step in developing a firm understanding of how a community can benefit from adaptation,” said George Van Houtven, Ph.D., senior researcher at RTI and co-author of the report.

Using what it termed as “conservative estimates,” RTI researchers concluded that if no protective efforts are made, sea level rise will substantially increase the expected cost of coastal flood damages to the region’s homes in any given year from $12 million with no sea level rise to about $50 million with a sea level rise of .5 meters (by the year 2040) and over $100 million annually with a sea level rise of .75 meters (by the year 2060).

To reach its conclusions, RTI researchers relied on two potential sea level rise scenarios: one where water levels rise by 0.5 meters (predicted by the year 2040) and another where water levels rise by 0.75 meters (predicted by the year 2060).  RTI selected these sea level rise scenarios based on research and predictions from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS).

“It is our hope that the findings of this important study will help to educate the public, including political and local government leaders, on the economic risks that sea level rise presents to the future sustainability of the Hampton Roads region,” said Elizabeth Andrews, director of the Virginia Coastal Policy Center.

Addressing the impact of sea level rise on the regional and state economy, the report also estimates the impact from a 100-year storm event under different sea level rise conditions.

  • With no sea level rise, such an event would reduce total household income in the region by an estimated $611 million in the year of the storm, which translates to an average of roughly $940 in lost income per household.
  • With sea level rise of 0.5 meters (by the year 2040), it would decrease total household income by about $1.1 billion, or an average loss of $1,760 per household in the region.
  • If sea level rises by 0.75 meters (by the year 2060), the researchers anticipate that household income in the region would fall by $2.2 billion, or roughly the loss of $3,370 per household.

The full report is available here. Funding for the study was provided by the blue moon fund.