Growing Returns

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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3 urgent steps for North Carolina to build back stronger and smarter

Hurricane Florence’s arrival so soon after Hurricane Matthew serves as an urgent reminder that new, effective and rapidly implementable solutions are required to meet the challenges of a new normal of extreme weather.

“It’s clear that we’re going to have to build back not only stronger, but smarter. When you have two so-called 500-year floods within a 23-months period, you know we’re not talking about 500-year floods. We’ve got to work to make sure we make smart decisions.”
– North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper after surveying extreme flooding from Hurricane Florence

It’s time to invest in three proven approaches to flood preparedness and economic development so that our communities can bounce forward to a more prosperous, safe and resilient future. Read More »

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Coastal communities must plan for the future instead of planning from the past

Ecosystem restoration planning has traditionally been based on a desire to restore a system to some historic condition – even as conditions are constantly evolving because of climate change. Rather than planning for the future, we often look back at what the system once was and try to replicate it. But in a rapidly changing world, this model is not sustainable.

A paradigm shift, from restoration projects that solve past problems to those which address future conditions, is necessary if we’re to continue living in coastal areas.

Photo Credit: USGS

Where I work in Louisiana, the Mississippi River Delta is facing an ongoing land loss crisis, due to a host of man-made and natural causes that is further exacerbated by the increasing effects of climate change.

To face this challenge, my Restore the Mississippi River Delta coalition colleagues and I, in collaboration with Tulane University, University of New Orleans and The Water Institute of the Gulf, began an effort to improve the future performance of coastal restoration projects. We started by identifying approaches and investment opportunities that support the long-term viability of the ecosystem – and the communities and industries that depend on it.

It’s our hope that this work will help Louisiana and other coastal areas around the country better plan for the future. Read More »

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