From the New York Times:
In this section of the Larchmont neighborhood, built in a sharp “u” around a bay off the Lafayette River, residents pay close attention to the lunar calendar, much as other suburbanites might attend to the daily flow of commuter traffic.
If the moon is going to be full the night before Hazel Peck needs her car, for example, she parks it on a parallel block, away from the river. The next morning, she walks through a neighbor’s backyard to avoid the two-to-three-foot-deep puddle that routinely accumulates on her street after high tides.
For Ms. Peck and her neighbors, it is the only way to live with the encroaching sea.
As sea levels rise, tidal flooding is increasingly disrupting life here and all along the East Coast, a development many climate scientists link to global warming.
But Norfolk is worse off. Situated just west of the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, it is bordered on three sides by water, including several rivers, like the Lafayette, that are actually long tidal streams that feed into the bay and eventually the ocean.
Like many other cities, Norfolk was built on filled-in marsh. Now that fill is settling and compacting. In addition, the city is in an area where significant natural sinking of land is occurring. The result is that Norfolk has experienced the highest relative increase in sea level on the East Coast — 14.5 inches since 1930, according to readings by the Sewells Point naval station here.
Climate change is a subject of friction in Virginia. The state’s attorney general, Ken T. Cuccinelli II, is trying to prove that a prominent climate scientist engaged in fraud when he was a researcher at the University of Virginia. But the residents of coastal neighborhoods here are less interested in the debate than in the real-time consequences of a rise in sea level.
When Ms. Peck, now 75 and a caretaker to her husband, moved here 40 years ago, tidal flooding was an occasional hazard.
“Last month,” she said recently, “there were eight or nine days the tide was so doggone high it was difficult to drive.”
Larchmont residents have relentlessly lobbied the city to address the problem, and last summer it broke ground on a project to raise the street around the “u” by 18 inches and to readjust the angle of the storm drains so that when the river rises, the water does not back up into the street. The city will also turn a park at the edge of the river back into wetlands — it is now too saline for lawn grass to grow anyway. The cost for the work on this one short stretch is $1.25 million.
The expensive reclamation project is popular in Larchmont, but it is already drawing critics who argue that cities just cannot handle flooding in such a one-off fashion. To William Stiles, executive director of Wetlands Watch, a local conservation group, the project is well meaning but absurd. Mr. Stiles points out that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has already spent $144,000 in recent years to raise each of six houses on the block.
At this pace of spending, he argues, there is no way taxpayers will recoup their investment.
“If sea level is a constant, your coastal infrastructure is your most valuable real estate, and it makes sense to invest in it,” Mr. Stiles said, “but with sea level rising, it becomes a money pit.”
Many Norfolk residents hope their problems will serve as a warning.
“We are the front lines of climate change,” said Jim Schultz, a science and technology writer who lives on Richmond Crescent near Ms. Peck. “No one who has a house here is a skeptic.”