Virginia Should Fund Flood Preparedness Program, Voters Say

With damage and costs rising, poll finds strong support for state investment

Flooding in Reston VA
A couple searches for their car in a flooded commuter parking lot in Reston, Virginia, in 2011. The Virginia General Assembly is considering funding a program to help communities better prepare for flooding, which has become increasingly common—and costly—across the state.
Jahi Chikwendiu The Washington Post via Getty Images

In 2019, floods across Virginia closed roads, derailed commutes, and in some cases prompted emergency rescues of drivers from submerged cars. Tidal flooding also affected coastal neighborhoods in the past year. And 2019 wasn’t an anomaly: Flooding in Virginia is becoming more common and costly, and a new poll has found that 84 percent of registered voters in the state—across party lines—favor a state-run fund to help owners of homes and businesses invest in measures to reduce flood risk in their communities.

The framework for achieving that goal already exists through the Virginia Shoreline Resiliency Fund, a revolving loan program which was created in 2016 but has yet to receive any money. A bill—S.B. 320, introduced today by Senator Lynwood Lewis (D)—would amend the program to better help communities implement mitigation solutions, but the program still requires funding to make an impact.

The new poll, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and Hart Research Associates for The Pew Charitable Trusts, shows that 61 percent of voters support allocation of at least $50 million to the fund, an important consideration for the Virginia General Assembly as it works to finalize the state’s 2020-22 budget.

Voters: Virginia must improve flood preparations

Of those surveyed, 70 percent said it is important for the state to be more prepared for storms and floods, with 57 percent citing climate change as a serious problem. Flooding causes an average of $13 million in damage every year in Virginia, a cost that experts predict will increase in coming years.

The survey also showed that 70 percent of Virginia voters find poorly planned development to be an issue, while 75 percent said the poor condition of the state’s infrastructure, including roads and bridges, is problematic.

States and cities across the country are adopting policies and allocating funding for flood mitigation, including relocation of properties that have flooded multiples times and restoration of wetlands to absorb floodwaters. Such measures can help to reduce recovery costs after a disaster strikes and save taxpayers money. Investing in flood prevention measures also protects vital infrastructure, such as hospitals, schools, and roads, that requires daily accessibility and maintains public safety. To realize such benefits, the Virginia General Assembly should pass S.B. 320 and allocate money to the fund to help the state’s residents better cope with the floods of today—and tomorrow.

Laura Lightbody directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ flood-prepared communities initiative.

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