NORFOLK, Va. (WVEC) -- Sea level is on the rise, and will have an impact on military readiness in the future.
Those are the findings of a new report from the Center for Climate and Security, comprised of retired generals and admirals, which concludes that climate change will present a serious risk to military readiness and operations and strategy as America's coastline installations become swamped in decades to come.
"This is not a political question," said retired Air Force General Ronald Keys, former commander of Air Combat Command. "This is not a liberal or conservative question. This is a science question. And we need to understand the science."
And nowhere could the impact be worse than at Naval Station Norfolk, where the Chesapeake Bay, Elizabeth and James Rivers converge. Together with Little Creek Amphibious Base, the two installations are home port to 69 Navy warships. Portions of the waterfront could be submerged, and the roads leading into the world's largest Naval base could be impassable at times.
At Old Dominion University, they've been studying the problem for years.
Retired Army Corps of Engineers Colonel Paul Olsen, now ODU's Director of Federal, State and Municipal Programs and Partnerships, says it's not just the Navy base that will be affected locally, it's also Langley Air Force Base and Fort Eustis, which sit in low lying land and are prone to flooding.
He says there are three choices: Defend, with expensive seawalls and levees; retreat; or, cope.
"We are learning to live with water, so that kind of option is, adapt, so rather than taking the lessons of the Netherlands or New Orleans, which are very expensive, which we can't do for our entire coastline, we should maybe learn to live with water as they do in Venice," he said.
Olsen says he's confident the U.S. will figure out a way to deal with the issue.
"The United States produces some of the best engineers in the world, some of the best urban and regional planners in the world," he said. "And if we see the challenge, whether it's the Hoover Dam or the Transcontinental railroad, if we see the challenge, we can address it, and we have time to address it."