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Flooding woes have only gotten worse in Norfolk over recent decades

It may not be a new problem, but it is escalating quickly.

NORFOLK, Va. — Norfolk continues to be on the front lines of sea-level rise.

It may not be a new problem, but it is escalating quickly.

It doesn’t take a Hurricane like Ian to see flood conditions in parts of the city – even a regular rainstorm, timed just right with the tide -- can put us underwater.

“What do we do about it?” asked Marjorie Jackson from the Elizabeth River Project. “We need to understand it better, we need to demonstrate the right way to be here.”

Jackson and her team at the Elizabeth River Project are doing just that with the Louis and Pru Ryan Resilience Lab, an $8 million living laboratory and learning park that will let us see up close how to build, preserve, and live in our region during climate change and rising sea levels.

“Just the building itself will model better practices than a lot of us have been able to achieve in the past,” said Jackson.

They broke ground on the lab off Colley Avenue in Norfolk in May. It’s intentionally built in a flood zone using accessible and cost-effective materials not out of reach for the average homeowner.

But this kind of forward-thinking and action wasn’t top of mind, for most of us at least, in the 1980s and 1990s.

We may have had significant flooding back then – archive video shows problem areas like Llewelyn Avenue near the old Lafayette Motor Hotel circa 1996 – but the frequency of events like these has changed drastically.

In fact, the number of hours water rose a foot or more above normal levels in 1992 was 100 hours.

Fast forward to 2016, a comparable El Niño year, when there were 240 hours of flood conditions.

Today, the resilience lab will serve as a symbol, showing how seriously the region takes the impending threat of climate change.

It’s expected to open in the fall of 2023.

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