New Army Corps guidelines will expand natural infrastructure to reduce flood risk and more

This year has brought devastating flooding in the Netherlands, Germany, China, the U.S. and elsewhere. Globally, over 2.2 billion people are exposed to flooding, and that number is growing.

New research indicates the proportion of people living in floodplains since 2000 has increased by 20% to 24%, and climate change is further increasing flood risk with rising sea levels, more intense storms and extreme rainfall events. We need urgent action to protect people from these growing risks.

To this end, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) just released their “International Guidelines on the use of Natural and Nature-Based Features (NNBF) for Flood Risk Management.” Here’s why that’s a big deal.

1. Breaking tradition will broaden benefits.

NNBF provide cost-effective, self-sustaining long-term alternatives to traditional engineered flood management while offering additional benefits to ecosystems and communities.

The new guidelines provide recommendations on the use of NNBF like wetlands, barrier islands and expanded floodplains to help decision-makers, project planners and practitioners develop strategies for flood risk reduction in both coastal and inland settings.

To help various stakeholders assess and communicate the full value of NNBF projects, the guidelines dedicate an entire chapter to detailing the benefits and costs of NNBF. This chapter outlines both qualitative and quantitative methods of assessing co-benefits of NNBF projects. It also includes a decision-support tool for cost-benefit comparisons and features case studies to help users showcase the value of NNBF in tangible, real-world applications.

Natural and nature-based features, such as dunes pictured here, can help absorb the shock of storm surge and better protect communities from sea level rise. Credit: Georganna Collins.

2. Guidelines close persistent knowledge gaps.

Despite significant strides to increase the scientific understanding for the use of NNBF for flood risk reduction, many practitioners, policymakers and communities struggle with the identification, design or implementation of NNBF projects. The new guidance serves as a mechanism for rapid dissemination of information which users can apply in current and future flood risk reduction.

By leveraging authoritative scientific knowledge to develop this practical decision-support tool, the guidelines help users across a wide variety of perspectives and geographies identify NNBF that can meet their needs.

3. International collaboration opens channels for knowledge sharing.

Interest in NNBF for flood risk management has steadily increased in recent decades, spurring more desire for the adoption of these solutions. Yet much of this knowledge has remained siloed across areas of expertise and geographies.

The guidelines break down these silos to combine a wealth of lessons learned from flood risk management strategies around the globe. This includes resources for protecting farms, homes and infrastructure in both rural and urban areas.

With a problem as broad and complex as flooding, collaboration is imperative. The international collaboration behind the guidelines facilitated knowledge sharing on an impressive scale, with 180 different authors and contributors from 77 authorities, from federal agencies like the Corps and NOAA, to NGOs like EDF and the private sector.

The extensive research contained in the guidelines will help inform future action, investment and collaboration for research and development in natural solutions for flood risk management to help the world build a more climate-resilient future.

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