Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Plan: Phase One

In December 2021, the Commonwealth of Virginia published Phase One of the Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Plan, which presents the Commonwealth's strategy for implementing coastal protection and adaptation measures to increase the flood resilience of coastal communities and economies. The Plan builds on the Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Planning Framework, which was released in October 2020 and outlined the core principles of the Commonwealth's approach to coastal adaptation and protection. The Commonwealth plans on releasing two phases of the Master Plan. Phase One compiles conclusions from various analyses, data, assessments, and public engagement and will be updated every five years. Phase Two of the plan will be released at the end of 2024 and will include revisions, updates, expanded analyses, and the development of a sustainable public engagement process. 

Phase One of the Commonwealth’s Master Plan is Virginia's first statewide coastal adaptation or resilience strategy. It includes data about riverine, coastal, and precipitation-based flooding informed by a stakeholder-driven process and introduces different adaptation tools, strategies, and funding sources that can help the state and regional and local governments and communities evaluate, prioritize, and rank future coastal resilience projects to better guide and support these decisionmaking efforts. Virginia asserts that 70 percent of the state’s population, or about six million individuals, reside in coastal regions, which are economic hubs, have cultural resources, and shape unique landscapes and communities. However, the Commonwealth also acknowledges that coastal communities are facing serious threats due to sea-level rise and climate change, and must be prepared to build resilience with social and economic equity in mind. 

To develop the Plan, the Commonwealth conducted a Technical Study guided by stakeholder engagement. The Technical Study “compiled essential data, research, processes, products, and resilience efforts in the Coastal Resilience Database,” which was used to write the Plan and create the Coastal Resilience Web Explorer

To guide the Technical Study, the state convened a Technical Advisory Committee to help coordinate “key stakeholders and ensured the incorporation of the best available subject matter knowledge, data, and methods.” The state prioritized community engagement to balance the Plan’s technical input by providing various opportunities to gain “diverse resilience perspectives from residents, local and regional officials, and other stakeholders across Virginia’s coastal communities to drive regionally specific resilience priorities.” As a result of these efforts, the state engaged over 2,000 individuals. As informed by the public engagement, Phase One of the Plan includes details about the current and future risk, exposure, and frequency of coastal flooding hazards, and the current and future potential for resilience projects. 

In addition to the Plan, the Commonwealth used the Technical Study to create the Coastal Resilience Database and Web Explorer, which generates “data on coastal flood hazards, impacts, ongoing and proposed projects and initiatives, funding programs, and other relevant information publicly available to support resilience efforts at the state, regional, and local levels.” It is a consolidated resource for the state and regional and local governments and communities to access information about flooding impacts, identify existing or ongoing coastal resilience projects, and evaluate adaptation strategies and tools to identify, prioritize, and rank future projects.

The Plan consists of five chapters, described below. 

Chapter One is an overview of how the Commonwealth is increasing coastal resilience. It includes a definition of resilience, an explanation of why it is important to build coastal resilience, and the Commonwealth’s vision for increasing resilience. The Commonwealth also explains the importance of developing regional solutions to build resilience and Virginia’s ongoing regional efforts. The state also summarizes the Technical Study, the Technical Advisory Committee, and stakeholder engagement, which were used to inform the Plan.

Chapter Two provides more information on Virginia’s regional efforts. The chapter has details about the Commonwealth’s four coastal community Master Planning Regions. The Master Planning Regions are “coastal areas or those containing tidally influenced waters and encompass localities and counties with similar development patterns, economies, flood exposures and risks, and resilience priorities.” The regions work with each other “to address shared and regional planning needs.” For each of these regions, the Plan includes information about “their distinct hazards, risks, priorities, and existing resilience efforts.”

Chapter Three includes a discussion about the effects of coastal flooding and what may happen in the future. It also has an overview of the Technical Study process. The chapter summarizes the “current and projected future coastal flood hazards” for specific regions as well as “the associated potential impacts to Virginia’s essential and cherished assets.”

Chapter Four outlines the ways the Commonwealth can increase coastal resilience and highlights the necessary financial and technical resources that will be essential to implementing projects. This chapter builds on the risk and exposure discussion in the previous chapters to provide potential adaptation strategies and tools that the state and regional and local governments and communities can consider to reduce current and future flooding impacts. While the state does not create a pipeline of future projects in the Plan itself, this chapter provides guidance on what potential options may be pursued. The chapter talks about a Project Prioritization Process (p. 203) the state created within the Coastal Resilience Database to inventory, score, and help prioritize coastal resilience projects for future funding and implementation opportunities.

The Commonwealth states that building capacity, implementing resilience projects, and recognizing opportunities must be iterative. The Commonwealth must also consistently facilitate collaboration, coordination, and communication between localities and regions. The chapter includes a discussion about coastal resilience projects, provides project examples, and includes a discussion about future strategic coastal relocation.

Chapter Five outlines how the Commonwealth will take the lessons learned throughout the process to develop the Plan and use them to inform future work. For example, the Commonwealth notes that it is in the process of preparing an Introduction to Strategic Coastal Relocation document, which will include a discussion “about moving private and public assets to higher ground.” The chapter ends with details about Phase Two of the Plan and the next steps. 

The Plan also includes several appendices which are documents that outline the Technical Advisory Committee’s recommendations; the Coastal Hazard Framework; future conditions modeling approaches; project evaluations; stakeholder engagement, workshops, and meetings summaries; executive orders and an executive directive; and more. 

The Commonwealth plans to update the plan every five years and complete Phase Two by the end of 2024.

Publication Date: December 7, 2021

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  • State of Virginia

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