Virginia wetlands are ‘shelter from the storm’

Environment Virginia Research & Policy Center

Hampton, VA – Sufficient wetlands remain in Virginia to hold enough rain to cover the city of Hampton in more than thirty feet water, according to a new report by Environment Virginia Research & Policy Center.

The analysis, Shelter from the Storm: How Wetlands Protect Our Communities from Flooding, says the state’s wetlands are at risk from pollution and development, however, and so is the region’s natural shield against flood damage.

“Our wetlands are nature’s first line of defense against storms and flooding,” said Jessie Mehrhoff, Clean Water Organizer with Environment Virginia. “We need to protect what’s left of them.

Floods are the most common natural disaster in the United States, causing an average of $8.2 billion in damage each year for the past 30 years. In Virginia, 2004’s Hurricane Gaston brought flooding that destroyed more than 5,000 homes and resulted in multiple fatalities. The storm cost an estimated $130 million in damage.

“Wetlands provide immeasurable benefits to Virginia.  Wetlands are our communities’ first line of defense against strong storms, and they provide a home to aquatic life that form the basis of Virginia’s thriving fishing and hunting industries,” Emily Russell of Virginia Conservation Network. “With the predicted rise of stronger, more frequent storms, the Clean Water Rule is critical to protecting Virginia’s wetlands.  In turn, Virginia will continue to enjoy the recreational and economic benefits of our waterways.”

As global warming continues, scientists predict that the damage caused by floods will only increase. Warmer air is able to hold more water vapor, leading to higher levels of precipitation during rain and snowstorms. At the start of this decade, storms were already producing 10 percent more precipitation in Virginia than they did in the 1970’s.

“Flooding is an issue we need to address quickly because it is real and it is happening,” remarked Portsmouth Councilman Bill Moody. “These are issues we cannot ignore. Protections to the Clean Water Act need to happen immediately to help protect Portsmouth.”

A loophole in the nation’s Clean Water Act leaves the state’s smaller streams and 20 million acres of wetlands across the country without guaranteed protection under the law. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed restoring the safeguards with a rule expected to be finalized as early as next month.

The restored clean water and wetland protections have won support from hundreds of thousands of Americans, farmers, small businesses, and local officials, including Councilman Moody and Hampton City Councilwoman Chris Snead. Developers and other polluters have waged a bitter campaign against them in the U.S. Congress, however.

“I live in a flood zone area in Hampton and we are always concerned about sea level rise and the degradation of wetlands, so the Clean Water Act protections should definitely be restored,” stated Hampton Councilwoman Chris Snead.

“Wetlands give us shelter from the storm, so the law should shelter wetlands from development and pollution,” said Mehrhoff. “We call on Senator Kaine to stand up to the polluters and back protections for all of our streams and wetlands.”


Environment Virginia Research & Policy Center is a statewide advocacy organization bringing people together for a cleaner, greener, healthier future.