As flooding increasingly threatens North Carolina, experts call for bipartisan solutions

Rep. Greg Murphy, R-N.C., hosts Wednesday’s N.C. Water Adaptations to Ensure Regional Success Summit in Greenville. (Mike Shutak photo)

GREENVILLE — Hurricanes, sea level rise and precipitation are all growing threats to coastal life in North Carolina, but measures can be taken to mitigate these threats.

This was a takeaway message from the first N.C. Water Adaptations to Ensure Regional Success Summit Wednesday. Rep. Greg Murphy, R-N.C., who represents Carteret County and much of eastern North Carolina, along with Rep. David Rouzer, R-N.C, Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., organized the summit at the Hilton Greenville. They heard from scientists, engineers, local government representatives, nonprofit leaders and others on the threat of flooding and discussed legislative plans to address the challenges.

All the legislators seemed to agree flooding is an issue for the entire state, not just coastal areas, and bipartisan solutions are needed.

“This is such an important topic,” Sen. Tillis said, “especially to eastern North Carolina. We need to work with the (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) and state to prepare for the next severe storm. It’s not a matter of if, but when.”

N.C. General Assembly House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said flooding is “indeed a significant issue” in North Carolina.

“We’ve seen the destruction wrought on the state by hurricanes,” he said, “We’ve seen issues where rivers are unable to flow and impervious surfaces have affected things. Far too often after these events, families feel like they’re not receiving the support they need. It’s an issue from Manteo to Murphy.”

Getting all invested parties together to develop solutions seems is a key factor, according to American Flood Coalition Chairperson Jay Faison. He recommended setting development and response standards to prepare for a so-called 500-year flood, a flood of such severity as seen once every 500 years.

“Houston has set a 500-year standard,” Mr. Faison said. “They’ve admitted they can’t hit 500 years in some places, but it’s a standard. If we went to a 500-year standard, we’d reduce risk for North Carolina homes by 77 percent.”

One factor contributing to flooding is the growing frequency of precipitation. First Street Foundation chief data officer Dr. Ed Kearns said the precipitation-frequency atlas for North Carolina hasn’t been updated since 2006 and precipitation-based floods continue to catch communities unprepared.

“This isn’t an eastern North Carolina problem or a western North Carolina problem,” Mr. Kearns said, “it’s an everyone problem.”

Not only does flooding threaten communities, it also threatens the environment. UNC Institute of Marine Sciences Kenan Professor of Marine and Environment Sciences Dr. Hans Paerl said flooding –from tropical storms and non-tropical precipitation – can affect water quality by washing sediments and nutrients into water bodies, resulting in algal blooms.

“When algae dies, it sinks to the bottom and creates dead zones,” Dr. Paerl said.

These dead zones are areas of low oxygen that can cause fish kills and kill shellfish.

Dr. Paerl said the key to addressing the problem is to retain as many nutrients on land as possible. Potential solutions include creating more buffers for water bodies, more stormwater retention ponds and more constructed wetlands.

Increasingly frequent tropical storms and hurricanes are a major concern for ecologists, according to Dr. Paerl.

“(Natural) systems can come back from a hurricane,” Dr. Paerl said, “but it needs time. We’re concerned about disequilibrium…we’re losing our sea grasses due to the increased frequency of these storms.”

Rising sea levels globally and locally are another factor in coastal flooding. East Carolina University Coastal Sturdies Institute Integrated Coastal Programs Dean and Executive Director Dr. Reide Corbett said while the global rate of sea level rise is about 1.3 inches per decade, rates are expected to rise drastically.

“What we should see is 4.5 feet by 2100,” Dr. Corbett said. “We have to start having these difficult conversations now.”

Sea level rise may contribute to increased coastal flooding. UNC Department of Earth, Marine and Environmental Sciences Professor and Collaboratory for Coastal Adaptation over Space and Time Director Dr. Laura Moore said at the projected rates, high-tide flooding could become a daily occurrence in Duck and Wilmington by 2070.

“The effects of sea level rise will be exacerbated by other factors (such as) increased precipitation and tropical storms,” she said.

Addressing flooding will likely need to be handled on a local level. AFC Executive Director and founder Melissa Roberts said potential solutions include urban parks designed to reduce flooding and multi-crop practices for farmers.

“Different communities will need different solutions,” Ms. Roberts noted.


Contact Mike Shutak at 252-723-7353, email; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.

(3) comments

David Collins

Wow , a true meeting of the brightest and best .

So , rain causes flooding . Never knew that .

Sea level rise is at 1.3 inches every 10 years . No mention of where this is happening . Not at my house over the last 30 years . Not at Camden Maine’s docks . Been there and asked around . They have a gauge . Not at the Cayman Islands either . Perhaps he watched too many disaster movies and had bad dreams .

Actually hurricanes and flooding does some good . Things get stirred up and flushed out by the flood waters rather than just laying about and going stagnant . Destructive , you bet but mainly where humans have constructed stuff that should never have been built in harm’s way . By choice by the way . We do it to ourselves every time .


A lot of PhDs working on this, so yeah, I'd say a pretty good group of the brightest from research institutions.

But let's hear what the arm chair quarterbacks who know nothing of the science think. Did you do your own research? Do YOuR oWN ReSeaRcH. GoOglE StUFfS.

David Collins

No PHD but do have eyes and can read . PHD also stands for “pile it higher and deeper” . MS also stands for “more ……” . You know what BS stands for . PHDs are a dime a dozen these days and will sell out for a paycheck . Inconvenient truth , a classic written by the guy that invented the internet , don’t you know .

Welcome to the discussion.

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