BY JANE BLOODWORTH ROWE
VIRGINIA BEACH – Wind tides caused by strong southerly winds have led to road closures and high water signs on portions of Sandbridge and Indian River roads and flooded other local streets this spring, meaning inconvenience and some loss of business in the southern reaches of the city.
Such winds elevate the water level in the Back Bay watershed because they blow water from Currituck Sound northward into the bay. It’s particularly problematic on Sandbridge Road, which has seen increased traffic in recent years, said Drew Lankford, a city public works spokesperson.
Portions of Sandbridge Road were closed a few days between late April and early May, and parts of Indian River Road were also sometimes closed during this period because of flooding, according to public works. Other roads, as locals near places like Muddy Creek Road know too well, also flooded.
There were some high water spots this past month, too.
While wind tides aren’t unusual, this year’s flooding may have been more extreme because the south winds coincided with some heavy rains, Lankford said.
The wind was also heavy at times this spring, which blew the water up higher than usual, said City Councilmember Barbara Henley, who represents the Princess Anne District.
Still, it wasn’t the longest period of flooding that she can remember. In June 2006, water was consistently high for two weeks, Henley said, while this spring the water rose, receded, then rose again.
Drainage is an issue throughout Virginia Beach, and the problem is exacerbated by both rising sea levels and increased development, according to public works officials.
“Water levels have risen in recent years,” said Greg Johnson, storm water technical services engineer with public works. “The water level in all local bodies of water is affected by the rising ocean levels.”
Much of the land in the southern part of the city is vulnerable to flooding because it is only a few feet above sea level, and recent storms have heightened awareness of the problem, Johnson said. The city is developing a plan to address flooding in the Back Bay watershed, which is scheduled to be ready by 2019.
Still, there are no magic bullets to stop flooding when residential development occurs in low lying areas, Johnson said. “Some of this land is only three or four feet above sea level, and it is difficult to make it resilient,” he said. “We may need to discourage development in these areas.”
Public works has at least one project planned that could alleviate some flooding on Sandbridge Road. Construction of Nimmo Parkway Phase VII, a $20 million project that will raise a one-mile section west of Sandpiper Road to an elevation of seven feet, up from its current elevation of two or three feet, could start in 2019 if funding is approved, Johnson said. It would take a year to complete.
Portions of Sandbridge Road near the Lotus Garden Park also flood two or three times a year, Johnson said.
Henley noted that wind tides generally don’t affect farmers because most farm fields are on higher elevation. Flooded roads hurt one local produce farm, though.
“It really did affect our business,” said Elizabeth Cromwell of Cromwell’s Produce on New Bridge Road. Customers were unable to reach their farm due to road closures for two weekends during peak strawberry season.
“It’s such a short season that we hate to miss any day,” Cromwell said, “but it’s a lot worse when it’s on a Friday or over the weekend.”
The Rev. Jack Davis, pastor of Tabernacle United Methodist Church along Sandbridge Road, said water flooded his yard and crossed Sandbridge Road, flooding the church’s parking lot.
Fortunately, the water didn’t enter buildings, but road closures forced the cancellation of a church meeting and were a nuisance for a wedding rehearsal in May.
“We had to coordinate with the police so that they would let the wedding party through,” the pastor said.
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