Growing Returns

States are turning to data and interactive maps to help residents confront and manage flood risks

2019 has been an unprecedented year for flooding, even before the start of hurricane season. Despite the number of devastating hurricanes in recent years, a new University of Notre Dame study published in Climatic Change found that most coastal residents do not plan to take preventative action to reduce damages.

In addition to speeding up the recovery process, taking action before disaster strikes can help homeowners reduce damages, save money and even lives. For riverine floods, every dollar spent before a disaster saves $7 in property loss, business interruption and death.

So how can individuals, businesses and the public sector be incentivized to make proactive investments to reduce vulnerability before a disaster strikes? The first step is clearly understanding risks—now and in the future—and having concrete recommendations for how to mitigate them.

In the past, FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Rate Maps have been the source for this information; however, these probability-based maps have not resonated with most people as they rely on the obscure “100-year floodplain” concept. Being told you live in an area that has a 1 percent chance of flooding any given year does not inspire action, nor does it reflect the reality of a changing climate.

In recent years, states have stepped up with more robust tools that give residents a clearer depiction of risks and resources for how to reduce them. Three states stand out. Read More »

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Extreme wet weather in Louisiana and California highlights urgent need for newer, smarter strategies

Coauthored by Ann Hayden and Steve Cochran

It’s not often that communities in California and Louisiana face similar water challenges. California is better known for having too little water and Louisiana too much – both challenges exacerbated by climate change.

But record-setting wet winter weather led both states last week to release significant amounts of water from reservoirs and rivers to prevent flooding, underscoring the need for new approaches to build climate-resilient communities across the country. Read More »

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Immediate steps for North Carolina policymakers to reduce flood risks and build resilience

As the moment of crisis recedes in memory, it would be easy to shift our collective focus away from last year’s hurricanes. But we must remember that the work of rebuilding homes and livelihoods along the coast and across the coastal plain is really just beginning.

With two 500-year storms in a 23-month period, North Carolina policymakers and communities need to be better prepared for storms and flooding in the future.

In the aftermath of Hurricanes Florence and Michael, with rainfall totaling in the trillions of gallons, numerous recommendations were put forward to address the risks posed by flooding and extreme weather in North Carolina.

Those recommendations included targeted solutions such as clearing debris from rivers and streams that may address flooding in one community, but exacerbate it elsewhere. Others offered engineered approaches such as dams that can take decades to build, require state acquisition of private lands, and, once built, are fixed in place eliminating flexibility.

While some stream dredging or construction of levees in key locations may need to be part of a solution set, there are other immediate steps that we can take to reduce flood risks. Read More »

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Louisiana kids make a play for coastal comeback in Super Bowl ad

As millions of Americans prepare to watch the NFL’s season finale this weekend (despite most Saints fans boycotting it after an egregious “no call” in the Rams playoff game), a group of Louisiana children have been preparing an important message for state policymakers and election candidates – one that will air on local TV stations during Sunday’s big game.

The kids are using the ad to draw attention to a land loss crisis. Coastal Louisiana loses a football field of land to the Gulf of Mexico every 100 minutes because of the way the land and the Mississippi River have been managed, and now because of sea level rise.

Watch now, share with friends, and if you are from Louisiana, pledge your support for restoring the Louisiana coast at
RestoreTheCoast.org.
Read More »

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Army Corps releases crucial guide for reducing flood risk and increasing resilience

This week, the Army Corps of Engineers formally released an important resource guide, “Engineering with Nature: An Atlas.” This isn’t your typical government issued atlas of maps and figures. It’s an important first step toward broadening understanding, consideration and acceptance of natural infrastructure as a flood risk reduction and resilience strategy.

The glossy compendium of 56 Corps projects illustrates that restoring nature and using nature-based features and processes – such as dunes, wetlands, reefs, functioning floodplains and rivers – can efficiently yield real economic, environmental and social benefits.

Here are four ways the atlas helps to advance natural infrastructure solutions. Read More »

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Four recommendations for new governors on preparing for disasters and building resilience

Most politicians know that reelection can rest on successfully navigating a disaster response.

A bitter truth is that, as climate change continues to make weather events more intense and frequent, it is increasingly likely that governors will be grappling with critical tests of resilience brought on by more extreme weather events, natural disasters, crumbling infrastructure and cyber threats.

But the paradigm is shifting from disaster response to disaster preparedness, as it is becoming clear that the human and economic toll of not being prepared for disaster may be just as consequential as the immediate response.

The good news is that new leaders taking office this month now have a New Governors’ Resilience Playbook, thanks to a bipartisan committee of 18 governors known as the U.S. Climate Alliance. These experienced leaders advise incoming governors on how to build long-term resilience during their first year in office and recommend a 10-step program based on best practices. The best practices gathered in the New Governors’ Resilience Playbook will help any new governor tailor resilience efforts to meet their state’s needs. Click To Tweet

Aimed at busy executives, the playbook is a quick read with lots of good advice about leadership, timeliness and governance. At its core, the message is that new governors need to focus on accelerating actions that build resilience to better prepare for disasters before they strike.

The resilience playbook includes four overarching takeaways for new leaders. Read More »

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Virginia is creating a coastal resilience plan. Here are 5 ways it can succeed.

Virginia is experiencing some of the highest rates of sea level rise in the nation and has suffered a 250 percent increase in federally declared disasters over the last 20 years. The commonwealth’s coastal and riparian communities are becoming more and more vulnerable to flooding and storm damage exacerbated by climate change.

The good news is that Virginia is taking proactive steps to make its people and communities more resilient.

Last month, Governor Ralph Northam signed an executive order designating an official chief resilience officer and directing the creation and implementation of Virginia’s first Coastal Resilience Master Plan to reduce the impacts of coastal flooding.

Here are five important points for Virginia policymakers to consider as they move forward with a coastal resilience plan. Read More »

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Climate news got you down? Here are 3 bright spots that show promise in building resilience.

The federal government’s National Climate Assessment lays bare the grim future we face if we don’t reign in greenhouse gas emissions and scale up adaptation strategies in a hurry. Lost in most of the media coverage, however, is the fact that industry, government and communities are already coming together to build resilience so that people and wildlife can adapt to a changing climate.

Here are three shining examples. It may surprise you that some of these places are decidedly unblue.  Read More »

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How to accelerate the use of natural infrastructure to aid climate change adaptation

Florida and North Carolina are once again recovering from hurricanes – this time, from two of the largest storms to hit our coasts in a century. In a climate-driven world, an important aspect of recovery is rebuilding in ways that make communities safer and more resilient to storms.

One strategy for reducing future flood risks is restoring natural features such as barrier islands, dunes, wetlands and floodplains. These natural infrastructure solutions help slow storm surge and hold flood waters, reducing the devastating impacts of storms.

Even where a dune was completely lost during a storm, it did its job. A dune’s job is to be a chew toy for waves, so that roads and houses aren’t being chewed on. (Photo Credit)

Yet, despite what we know about the effectiveness of these features, natural infrastructure is still an underutilized resilience strategy.

While there is broad agreement that natural infrastructure can be an effective, sustainable means to reduce flood damages, existing information gaps make it difficult for city planners, engineers and decision-makers to fully support these practices. The good news is there is work already underway to help fill these gaps and make natural infrastructure solutions more accessible. Read More »

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How can we reduce losses from coastal storms? Monitor the health of our coasts.

With a rapidly changing climate and more frequent extreme events like floods and droughts, comprehensive environmental monitoring will be increasingly important for coastal planners, farmers and others invested in natural resource management.

Monitoring efforts can cover the whole spectrum of environmental and socioeconomic concerns to provide a holistic picture of ecosystem health over the short- and long-term. This can help to inform future decisions and planning based on the most recent conditions and trends.

However, it can be difficult to coordinate monitoring efforts across political boundaries and agencies, and monitoring is expensive to maintain over time.

Luckily, Louisiana is already a world leader in utilizing collaborative monitoring data to inform coastal restoration and planning efforts. Read More »

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