Read the feature on sea level rise in Hampton Roads.
Although local, state and federal government officials are leading coordinated efforts to combat flooding, other groups in Virginia see business potential from the crisis.
The OpenSeas Technology Innovation Hub, a collaboration between Old Dominion University and William & Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science, is working with ODU’s Institute for Coastal Adaptation and Resilience (ICAR) to find commercial opportunities for resilience innovations.
“If it just sits on a shelf somewhere, it’s not providing social value,” says Jerry Cronin, OpenSeas’ executive director. “You go for the moon. Sometimes you get the moon.”
For example, OpenSeas is working with Ferguson Enterprises to develop sensors that detect groundwater inflow into wastewater treatment plants. “Most cities have a lot of freshwater that leaks into the pipes and goes to treatment plants which exceeds the plants’ capacity, especially during floods,” Cronin explains. “Nobody has been able to come up with a complete solution, but there’s the opportunity for someone in the future.”
Also, the Norfolk-based nonprofit RISE, which has awarded more than $5 million to support 34 startups and small- to medium-sized businesses in testing their resilience technologies since 2018, is also part of the Coastal Resilience and Adaptation Economy initiative to cultivate innovation and growth in the state’s water economy. Earlier this year, the initiative received a $2.9 million grant, funded in part by GO Virginia, to address rural and urban flooding issues.
“Initiatives dealing with sea-level rise not only focus on avoiding risks and mitigation, but there are also innovation opportunities,” says Nancy Grden, executive director of ODU’s Hampton Roads Maritime Collaborative for Growth & Innovation. “Broader collaboration and focus on using innovation to solve problems is really important to our region. No one group can solve it on its own because it’s a very comprehensive issue.”