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The Fairfax County Government Center (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Fairfax County has issued a call for innovators to pitch solutions that work toward carbon neutrality and clean energy.

Pitch and Pilot,” a county-led innovation challenge, aims to find and pilot new projects that improve energy efficiency, increase renewable electricity use, and encourage the use of electric vehicles.

The winning team will have the chance to pilot their proposal in the county.

The pitch competition is sponsored by the county, George Mason University, and Smart City Works, a local nonprofit organization.

“Finding answers that increase energy efficiency and shift from a carbon-based to a carbon-neutral economy is a central goal in Fairfax County’s Strategic Plan,” event organizers wrote in last week’s announcement. “The county is courting solutions because the county’s first-ever Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP) calls for carbon neutrality within the community by 2050, with a 50% cut in carbon emissions by 2030.”

An orientation is slated for Sept. 15. The contest concludes with a public pitch contest on Oct. 19. The deadline to submit a two-page concept is Oct. 3.

Smart City Works aims to empower communities to solve urban challenges and improve economic growth through technological innovation.

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Sun glare with clouds (via Ritam Baishya/Unsplash)

With the D.C. area’s summer heat in full swing, local organizers worry that there are too few options for unhoused residents in the county to cool down.

Last month, the Fairfax County NAACP approved a resolution calling on Fairfax County to improve heat relief services for low-income residents and those experiencing homelessness in the county.

“Summer temperatures and storm frequencies are increasing due to climate change, thus homeless people are at greater risk of health impacts and even death,” says the resolution approved by the civil rights organization’s executive committee on July 28.

Potential solutions proposed by the resolution include a pilot program like D.C.’s heat emergency plan, better communication of hours and locations for the county’s cooling centers, vouchers to families for motel rooms, and distributions of water bottles, personal fans, and sunscreen at government centers.

In response to the resolution, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Health and Human Services Committee directed the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to provide the county’s current heat emergency plan.

In a memo dated July 29, DHHS listed a number of options available for cooling down. It also agreed to “enhance our efforts” and enact more “immediate action” for the county’s unhoused residents in need of relief from the August heat and humidity:

This work includes addressing transportation access gaps, evaluating both the variety and coordination of supply disbursements (both direct provision and at our cooling sites), considering the use of hotel vouchers in the event overflow shelters are at capacity, and providing a more robust communications plan as well as additional opportunities to provide direct communication outreach to individuals in need.

Additionally, NAACP officials tell FFXnow that a committee will meet tomorrow (Aug. 12) to discuss more solutions and ways to better help those in need.

Mary Paden, who chairs the NAACP’s Fair and Affordable Housing Committee, says she’s encouraged by the county’s willingness to listen and work with the group. But action needs to happen now, considering there are likely plenty of very hot days still left in the summer.

“Many [unhoused residents] are older and sick and are more affected by the heat than a younger, healthier person,” Paden said. “It took deaths for the hypothermia program to get set up in the winter…and you wonder if we have to wait for a death to get really serious about taking care of people in the heat.” Read More

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Rain collects around a storm drain (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax County is considering making all existing and future development built to lessen flooding risks from huge, 100-year event storms, as opposed to a 10-year storm.

The risk of flooding in the county is rising due to climate change, staff told the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors environmental committee late last month. While preventing flooding is impossible, its impact can be mitigated, they said.

Under the staff proposal, the county would require all future development to have proper drainage, pipe conveyance, and safety measures to accommodate a 100-year storm event adjusting for climate change.

The proposal is part of the county’s Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan, which was approved last September.

A “100-year storm event” is defined by the U.S. Geological Survey as one that “statistically has a 1-percent chance of occurring in any given year.” It brings about 8 inches of rain over a 24-hour period, according to the latest data.

With climate change expected to produce stronger storms and increased flooding, that figure is likely to be adjusted in the future.

Part of the proposal is that new development would be required to be built to adjust for predicted sea level rise and severe weather risks.

Currently, all developments must accommodate a 10-year storm event, which is the 10% chance of 4.5 inches of rain falling in a 24-hour period.

In the last decade, Fairfax County and the D.C. region have experienced several flood-level storms. In 2011, Tropical Storm Lee dumped 7 inches of rain in three hours. In 2019, nearly 5 inches came down in some parts of the county, and just last month, nearby Montgomery County experienced extreme flooding from more than 5 inches of rain.

For existing structures, like houses, the plan is to “mitigate” flooding through regulation, public infrastructure projects, and recovery programs.

“There’s no right answer about what flood risk is acceptable because there’s no such thing as zero risk from flood,” Department of Public Works and Environmental Services Deputy Director Ellie Codding said. “What we can do is design infrastructure to a reasonable point and to educate the public and be ready with resources for recovery.”

With water typically passing through residential properties from upstream, a channel or flood path blocked by a fence, debris or an unpermitted addition can exacerbate flooding, preventing water from flowing where it was designed to go.

Almost all flooding in the county happens in basements, Codding said, so understanding and preventing this is a shared responsibility of residents and the county.

“With participation from residents and businesses, the county alone can’t achieve a meaningful level of flood risk reduction,” she said.

Of course, all of this will come with a cost, one that might be supplemented by increased taxes.

While board members agreed with the overall assessment, several noted that educating homeowners will be an important and more cost-effective component.

Chairman Jeff McKay said homeowners associations or community groups that own and manage stormwater facilities and common areas (like ponds) may not know how to maintain those.

“I’m increasingly concerned about the smaller subdivisions and lack of information, assistance, and oversight to even maintain stormwater facilities that they put in with their development,” McKay said.

Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw noted that some responsibility needs to fall on contractors, who might be doing home renovations or repairs. They are either not educated themselves on good practices or not passing that knowledge on to their clients.

With the board’s consent, county staff are expected to present a “proof-of-concept” study with cost estimates next spring, followed by a flood mitigation plan later in 2023.

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Vehicle surrounded by water in a flooded roadway (via Fairfax County)

Fairfax County has a plan to help address the local effects of climate change, which already contributes to storms and other challenges that have caused tens of millions of dollars in damage.

The draft Climate Adaptation and Resilience Plan for Resilient Fairfax is now open for public comment through June 15. The county’s Board of Supervisors could approve it in September or October this year.

“In the coming months, we will also develop carryover funding proposals to ensure that any urgently needed resilience action is taken in a timely manner,” said Allison Homer, a planner with the county’s Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination, at the board’s environmental committee meeting today (Tuesday).

The plan proposes short- and long-term solutions that could potentially cost up to $9.5 million. They include launching a climate resilience education program, implementing a flood-risk reduction plan, exploring possible retroactive physical capital improvement projects for communities, and more.

In addition to these step-by-step solutions, other goals call for protecting natural resources and restoring urbanized environments. For example, the county notes it could further encourage buildings to add vegetation to roofs and pursue other strategies.

“Resilience planning is critical because we are already experiencing these hazards through temperature changes, stronger storms, and increased flooding, among other hazards,” the draft report says. “These climate impacts are projected to increase in both intensity and frequency, impacting our neighborhoods, businesses, infrastructure, public services, the local economy, cultural resources, and natural environments.”

Per the report, four severe weather events from 2010 through 2019 produced more than $25 million in damages:

  • The North American Blizzard (2010) resulted in a $2 million loss
  • Tropical Storm Lee (2011) cost the county $10 million in repairs to bridges and roads
  • Hurricane Sandy (2012) cost the county more than $1.5 million
  • July 2019 raining and flooding cost $14.8 million, including $2 million in damages to Fairfax County government property

“Even if all greenhouse gas emissions were eliminated globally today, the county would still continue to see some level of climate change in the future due to the level of global gases already emitted,” the report says. “Therefore, in all future scenarios, it is important to become resilient to climate change effects.”

Among its solutions, the draft plan recommends creating a climate fund with $100,000 to $500,000 for county-led climate projects, leveraging the money as a local match for state, federal and other grants.

It also proposes county incentives and assistance programs that reduce heat-related climate risk. That could involve updating development design guidelines and providing direction on building materials and other ways to cool properties.

Work on the Resilient Fairfax plan began in February 2021, and county staff have collaborated with regional authorities, state and federal agencies, utilities, developers, and representatives from environmental, religious, nonprofit, civil rights and residential as well as business groups.

“I think we are doing the right thing, which is to anticipate where things might go,” said Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck, who chairs the environmental committee.

As part of the process, the county conducted a survey of community members’ climate-related concerns in November, drawing over 600 responses.

An audit found the county is undertaking several initiatives already, but the report said those efforts can be strengthened.

In addition to written comments, another public meeting will take place at 6:30 p.m. May 24 virtually for people to provide feedback.

Photo via Fairfax County

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