Photo: South Buffalo Creek flows past Pinecroft Place apartments in September 2018.

There’s no point in tiptoeing around the issue to protect some climate-denier’s tender sensibilities.

new norm is different than maybe years past when it comes to flooding and
extreme weather we’ve had,” Greensboro Assistant City Manager Christian Wilson said.
“In our planning for emergency preparedness and sheltering and everything else,
we’ve had to shift the way we think, because it’s more frequent and it’s more

Kristine Williams, assistant
director of water resources, was even more pointed during her presentation to
Greensboro City Council on Tuesday afternoon.

climate change issue is affecting us,” she said. “We are seeing more frequent
and intense rainfall. And that’s happening more often. And we will probably
continue to see that.”

Greensboro doesn’t have to contend
with sea-level rise, as do coastal cities like Hampton Roads, Va., Miami and
New Orleans. North Carolina’s third-largest city is at the headwaters of the
Haw and Deep rivers, which both contribute to the Cape Fear watershed. The
challenge for Greensboro is that the narrow streambeds of the North Fork and
South Fork of Buffalo Creek, which cover most of the city and feed into the Haw
River, are ill-equipped to absorb sudden and intense rainfall.

know that the intensity of the rain is really what has gotten us lately,” Mayor
Nancy Vaughan observed. “As it comes down, there’s really no place for it to go
because it comes so quickly. If it falls over hours, it has the ability to
dissipate. If it falls in an hour, there’s just no place for it to go.”

city’s storm sewer network is not designed for the volume of rainfall that
Greensboro has been receiving.

pipes are built for 10-year rains, and we are seeing 100-year rains with pretty
regular frequency,” Vaughan said. “And we’ve got pipes that are built for
10-year rains. We can see that we’re going to be playing catch-up for quite a
while. I think as we’re looking at the Comprehensive Plan that this is going to
have to play a bigger part of it.”

Average yearly rainfall in Greensboro is 42 inches, Williams told council members. But rainfall for 2019 totaled 64 inches, and 70 inches the year before that.

characterized the flooding as “devastating,” noting that it has damaged not
just homes, but also cars and HVAC units.

it’s affecting areas that aren’t supposed to flood.

flooding has been one of our biggest problems that we’ve had, and we had it all
over town,” Vaughan said. “The issues that our property owners had — homeowners
— and while people may be required to have flood insurance if they’re in a
flood plain or a flood way, we have seen people who are not flood ways or flood
zones that are flooding all over town, and that are having significant property

told her fellow council members on Tuesday that Greensboro needs to look at
providing incentives to developers to build vertically so that the city can preserve
green space to absorb rainfall.

when we look at retention ponds, sometimes they’re just a thimble, when we look
at the intensity of the rain,” she said.

The city is already incurring costs
from climate change through a program to buy out property owners in flood-prone
areas and by providing funds to help others elevate their homes.

The city purchased property through
its property-acquisition program as recently as November, Williams said.

program prioritizes properties that have absorbed repeated losses through flood
damage and properties where flooding presents a public-safety concern, Williams
said. If the property owner isn’t interested in selling, she said, the city
will consider assistance to help them elevate their homes.

plans to bring a proposal to city council at its next meeting to purchase
another property, and to apply to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for
funding to cover buyouts and modifications.

Sharon Hightower asked staff to look into policy changes that would require
multifamily housing developers to get approval before building in flood-prone
areas and to give the city the power to reject permits because of flood risk in
some extreme cases. She said she’s afraid the city will end up buying out
developers without adequate regulations in place.

if it wasn’t completely clear before, whether through regulation or buyouts,
we’re in the new era of managing the adverse consequences of the climate

you see what happened in July and August this [past] year with the amount of
rain that we had week after week, the ground didn’t even have the chance to begin
to dry, and it just kept coming,” Mayor Vaughan said. “And we had pretty
significant rain not all that long ago. And there was some flooding I think
just two weeks ago. This is an issue that’s gonna stay with us.”

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