Environmental Policy News

Report: Two-Thirds of DoD Installations are Vulnerable to Flooding

A new report from the Department of Defense (DoD) provides an assessment of the significant vulnerabilities from climate-related events in order to identify high risks to mission effectiveness on installations and to operations. These climate-related events include recurrent flooding for coastal bases.

Mandated by Congress as part of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, Report on Effects of a Changing Climate to the Department of Defense (January 2019) says, “DoD must be able to adapt current and future operations to address the impacts of a variety of threats and conditions, including those from weather and natural events. To that end, DoD factors in the effects of the environment into its mission planning and execution to build resilience.”

The report notes potential vulnerabilities to 79 installation over the next 20 years, selecting from climate-related events, such as recurrent flooding, drought, desertification, wildfires, and thawing permafrost. For recurrent flooding, the report determined that 53 facilities are now vulnerable, with that number expected to increase to 60 in the next two decades. In a discussion about recurring flooding, the report states:

ECO DepofDefense2Jason Kirkpatrick, 6th Civil Engineer Squadron natural resources program manager, poses for a photo along MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., shoreline July 10, 2014. Kirkpatrick is in charge of three major environmental projects, as part of the Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan, which stabilizes the shoreline, and ensures the 7.2 miles of shoreline and more than 5,000 acres of land are protected. Photo credit: Senior Airman Melanie Bulow-Gonterman, U.S. Air Force.

“Coastal flooding may result from storm surge during severe weather events. Over time, gradual sea level changes magnify the impacts of storm surge, and may eventually result in permanent inundation of property. Increasing coverage of land from nuisance flooding during high tides, also called “sunny day” flooding, is already affecting many coastal communities

“Joint Base Langley-Eustis (JBLE-Langley AFB), Virginia, has experienced 14 inches in sea level rise since 1930 due to localized land subsidence and sea level rise. Flooding at JBLE-Langley, with a mean sea level elevation of three feet, has become more frequent and severe.

“Navy Base Coronado experiences isolated and flash flooding during tropical storm events, particularly in El Niño years. Upland Special Areas are subject to flash floods. The main installation reports worsening sea level rise and storm surge impacts that include access limitations and other logistic related impairments.

“Navy Region Mid-Atlantic and the greater Hampton Roads area is one of the most vulnerable to flooding military operational installation areas in the United States. Sea level rise, land subsidence, and changing ocean currents have resulted in more frequent nuisance flooding and increased vulnerability to coastal storms. As a result, and to better mitigate these issues, the Region has engaged in several initiatives and partnerships to address the associated challenges.”

"When I look at climate change, it's in the category of sources of conflict around the world and things we'd have to respond to. So it can be great devastation requiring humanitarian assistance — disaster relief — which the U.S. military certainly conducts routinely,” commented Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dunford, November 2018 (quoted in the report).

The report says that a changing climate can impact DoD’s operations through changes in how the DoD maintains readiness and provides support, as well as changes to what they may be asked to support. Issues cited include Country Instability, Logistics and Mission Support, Arctic Region, Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief, Defense Support of Civil Authorities, and Testing and Training.

For example, “Hurricanes resulting in damage to infrastructure and delays in training, testing programs, and space launches at Tyndall Air Force Base, at the Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Centers, and the Eastern Range,” while rising seawater causes “wash-over and contamination of freshwater on atoll installations.”

Furthermore, “weather conditions over the Mediterranean Sea currently impact intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), personnel recovery/casualty evacuation and logistics flights from Europe to the African continent; potentially increasing no-go flight days.”

“At Naval Base Guam,” the report says, “recurrent flooding limits capacity for a number of operations and activities including Navy Expeditionary Forces Command Pacific, submarine squadrons, telecommunications, and a number of other specific tasks supporting mission execution.

“Additionally, flooding impacts operations and activities of contingency response groups at Andersen Air Force Base, as well as mobility response, communications, combat, and security forces squadrons.”

The report lists the DoD’s strategies for installation planning and basing, including mitigation and remediation actions, and provides examples.

  • JBLE-Langley Air Force Base is using a flood visualization tool to understand flooding impacts across the base. By modeling different storm flooding elevations, they were able to determine where to install door dams, which require less time and less labor than sandbags. The base reduced the number of required sandbags by 70 percent. JBLE-Langley also requires that all new development is constructed at a minimum elevation of 10.5 feet above sea level with some projects planned for higher elevation due to high communication intensity and need for greater hardening. Additionally, the City of Hampton recently adopted a Resiliency and Adaptation Addendum to their original 2010 Joint Land Use Study. This addendum will help solidify a path forward for the City of Hampton and JBLE-Langley to identify and implement resilience strategies that support continued feasibility of base operations.
  • Patrick Air Force Base imposes strict Florida Building Code hurricane requirements and finished floor elevations for all new construction based on flood plain and storm surge data. Base staff coordinates with state, county, and academic institutions to ensure these requirements are implemented.
  • Eglin and MacDill Air Force Bases in Florida partnered with local groups to address persistent coastal erosion around their installations. Oyster shells collected from local restaurants became the foundation for oyster reefs to create a living shoreline, bolstering natural protection of critical historic sites, stabilizing shoreline, protecting the riparian and intertidal environment, thereby creating habitat for aquatic/terrestrial species.
  • Navy Region Southwest leadership have adopted decisive measures to evaluate climate impacts on shore infrastructure and are pursuing a strategy to mitigate vulnerabilities through local agency collaboration, adaptive planning and implementation of innovative design techniques. This initiative will improve upon the Navy’s scientific data, facilitate assessment of various sea level rise (SLR) scenario impacts, and help identify sustainable infrastructure strategies to offset stressors from flooding, beach erosion, and loss of wetlands and habitat.
  • Navy Region Southwest facility planning efforts now incorporate adaptive planning measures from a variety of government agency sources, including NAVFAC’s Climate Change Installation Adaptation and Resilience Planning Handbook. Regional planners are working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Scripps Institute of Oceanography to study potential vulnerabilities at the Naval Amphibious Base. Sea level rise data for 2100 was used during the environmental planning and design phases of the Coastal Campus project. The design configuration of five buildings was modified to resist a moderate sea level rise event over their forecasted life cycle.
  • The greater Hampton Roads area is very vulnerable to flooding caused by rising sea levels and land subsidence. Navy Region Mid-Atlantic is working with several academic, local community, non-profit organizations, and state and federal agencies to increase understanding of current and future risks to inform discussions on possible adaptation strategies for communities and military bases. In addition, the cities of Norfolk and Virginia Beach are currently engaged in a Joint Land Use Study to identify specific conditions, including recurrent flooding, coastal storms, and erosion, outside of the military footprint that have the potential to impact Navy operations in the Hampton Roads area.
  • The Office of Naval Research (ONR) Arctic and Global Prediction Program is actively working to extend the capability to skillfully predict environmental conditions and disruptive weather events to several weeks and months in advance. The ability to provide useful forecasts of the operational environment, such as the location of the sea ice edge, the characteristics and evolution of sea ice, and the wind and wave conditions at the surface will be critical to enable safe and efficient naval operations in the Arctic.

Future efforts will include the funding of research that “helps the DoD better understand rates of coastal erosion, natural and built flood protection infrastructure, and inland and littoral flood planning and mitigation; provides tools for projecting “interactions of sea level rise, storm surge, precipitation/land-based flooding at U.S. Military Installations;” fuses climate science, design, and decision sciences;” and improves the resiliency of materials used for infrastructure.

The full report is available here.

By Greg Leatherman, Managing Editor, TSC Publishing

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