The Battleship NORTH CAROLINA is a historic and cultural treasure, popular tourist destination and significant contributor to the area economy just across the Cape Fear River from downtown Wilmington. She is moored among more than 2,000 acres of tidal wetlands and intertidal shoreline on Eagles Island.
The conditions she lives in represent those experienced throughout the coastal community, where Wilmington and the Cape Fear River demonstrate modern changes in climate and rising water levels from harbor dredging, loss of wetlands, and managed releases from inland lakes and reservoirs.
This has led to an increasing trend in sunny day tidal flooding at the Battleship site.
Notwithstanding hurricanes, the Battleship has seen more flood stage events in the past decade than in the previous 60 years. The trend in flooding events (measured at greater than 5.5 feet as recorded by the National Weather Service tidal gauge at the foot of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge) is clear:
- 6 flooding events in the 1940s
- 4 flooding events in the 1950s
- 101 flooding events in the single year of 2018
- 142 flooding events November 1, 2018 – August 31, 2019
According to the National Weather Service, Wilmington’s rainfall in 2019 is significantly below normal: As of early August, 2019 was the driest year on record; by mid-November rainfall was still more than 7.5 inches below normal. Yet the Battleship experiences alarmingly common sunny day flooding, caused by high tides on the Cape Fear River.
The dramatic increase in the frequency and severity of flood events causes safety concerns, economic losses and unpredictable conditions, including:
- Damage to facilities, ramps and maintenance vehicles
- Damaged and disrupted utility services (electric, plumbing, etc.)
- Increased likelihood of injuries to staff and damage to personal vehicles
- Forced closures and delayed openings
- Strains on infrastructure (mooring lines, hull, ship structures)
- Sinkholes appear or worsen
- Risk for sewage spills because of design of lift station and piping/plumbing
- Lost revenue because of low or no visitation during flood events
- Lost revenue because of canceled park and ship rentals
Faced with increasing flood and storm impacts, the Battleship needed a plan for change. Instead of fighting water, it would live with it. And the Living with Water project was born.
Living with Water – A Coastal Community Resilience Project
The project proposes a two-pronged approach:
1. Restore more than 800 feet (approximately 1/5 of an acre) of hardened shoreline with an intertidal estuarine living shoreline.
2. Restore the approximately 2-acre flood-prone area of the Battleship’s back parking lot with wetland habitat.
Living shorelines and wetlands help protect communities as well as fish and wildlife by buffering the effects of coastal storm surges, tidal flooding and stormwater runoff. They protect community assets, local economies, and historic and cultural values. They also provide educational opportunities through contributions to science and transferability of resiliency concepts.
Living with Water has already earned the support of the state of North Carolina’s Clean Water Management Trust Fund. The Fund awarded the Battleship a grant of up to $400,000 in September 2019 to address flooding using nature-based infrastructure like that proposed by the project.
The project also launched Phase Three of the Generations Campaign, which continues to raise funds to maintain and repair the Battleship, increase the educational opportunities offered and ensure adequate access into the future.