Growing Returns

Building climate resilience requires a whole-of-government approach. Here’s how Louisiana is making it happen.

As communities in southwest Florida, Puerto Rico and elsewhere in the Caribbean struggle to recover from the damages of an active hurricane season, efficient, proactive resilience solutions have never been more important.

Louisiana continues to be a world leader in the planning and implementation of coastal resilience. Louisiana will release the fourth iteration of its Coastal Master Plan in early 2023, which provides the most science-based and publicly informed plan in the nation. Since the first plan, $21.4 billion has been invested in flood resilience infrastructure – focused on restoration of coastal ecosystems that provide essential flood risk benefits and grey infrastructure such as levees and seawalls. Other state agencies have also invested billions in rebuilding their infrastructure, such as schools, hospitals and prisons.

flooded hospital

Flooded hospital in Louisiana after a storm.

However, flood resilience is not just about infrastructure but also the ability of government agencies to maintain programs and services their constituents rely upon, from trash collection to food assistance to healthcare. Louisiana is the first to take a step toward a whole-of-government approach to ensure communities have access to the essential services they need to rebuild and thrive in the face of future flood risks.

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Replicable revenue streams can help natural infrastructure projects receive State Revolving Fund financing

Natural infrastructure can provide protective barriers to reduce flood risk while also offering community green space and supporting green jobs. Louisiana GOHSEP, CC BY SA 2.0.

Authors: Vincent Gauthier (EDF), Tee Thomas (Quantified Ventures)

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will invest more than $44 billion in the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds, or SRFs, presenting a tremendous opportunity to finance natural infrastructure solutions that can improve water quality and protect communities against flooding. While natural infrastructure can be a cost-effective way to improve water quality and reduce flood risk, these projects have historically been difficult to finance through SRFs due to a lack of consistent repayment streams.

EDF and Quantified Ventures recently published a report that identified five replicable repayment streams that communities and conservation groups can use to access SRF financing for natural infrastructure such as wetlands, floodplain restoration, and riparian buffers. These repayment streams include stormwater utility fees, source water protection fees, and environmental markets.

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EDF Celebrates the Passing of the NY Bond Act.

In the climate policy world, states and localities are often laboratories of innovation and progress. However, with the devastating impacts of hurricanes, wildfires and heat waves, residents are already experiencing the costly impacts of climate change. To mitigate these costs, EDF supports innovative funding and financing strategies — especially in areas that are most vulnerable to climate impacts. One example of this is EDF’s work on a ballot measure in New York State.

This week, voters passed the historic Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act ballot measure. This comes on the heels of the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, ushering in a variety of new flood resilience projects aimed at mitigating these risks to communities.

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My perspectives on how we can inspire the next generation of Black climate leaders.

By Arianna Mackey, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) Summer 2022 Intern

I became aware of my community’s lack of environmental awareness at a very young age. Growing up in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, my family and I visited the Nauticus museum often. One afternoon, after spending time in the flooding exhibit, I explained to my mom that due to increased flooding, Virginia Beach would be inhabitable in the future, with standing water reaching the front door following a storm. She brushed me off by saying it was an “over-exaggeration” and our community was fine. That encounter piqued my interest in environmentalism. Read More »

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Iowa’s Watershed Approach provides a model for tackling big challenges on the Mississippi River.

The Mississippi River Basin is massive – it covers 40% of the contiguous U.S. and approximately two thirds of that area is farmland. Flooding and water quality are persistent issues across the basin, and experts predict they will only worsen with climate change and increasing intensity of agricultural production.

Iowa, a state in the basin, recently celebrated five years of its Iowa Watershed Approach (IWA) – a visionary program that has successfully demonstrated a collaborative strategy to reduce flood risk and improve water quality. With a $97 million dollar award from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, local and state leaders have installed more than 800 natural infrastructure projects across the state in the past few years. These projects are the result of collaboration among city officials, upstream farmers and state agencies.

I had the opportunity to travel to Iowa to join a bus tour of watershed projects that reduce flooding and improve water quality. Three elements have made the IWA a success and can help scale this approach to other watersheds across the basin: natural infrastructure, watershed approaches and shared science. Read More »

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Activating social science for flood risk and resilience planning in Louisiana and beyond.

Climate change is increasingly threatening the homes, health, livelihoods and cultural heritage of communities across Louisiana’s coast. The Bayou State is experiencing the fastest rate of coastal land loss in the country and has already lost nearly 2,000 square miles of land since the 1930s. Louisiana is taking important steps to address this risk, implementing the most comprehensive coastal planning in the nation with massive infrastructure investments for restoration and resilience.  

While the state’s Coastal Master Plan incorporates the most advanced technologies and engineering, it should also include an understanding of individual and community behavior and what motivates people to act in response to climate risk – a critical component of resilience. Many factors can influence the actions people are willing to take, whether switching jobs, voting for climate policies, flood-proofing a home or business, or even choosing to relocate. That’s why we need an understanding of the unique motivations that spur individual and community action in order to equitably allocate resources. 

To fill this information gap, we need scientific analysis of how people and their social networks in coastal Louisiana perceive, respond and adapt to extreme ecological changes and climate impacts. Working with partners at Cornell University, we set out to do just that.  

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Virginia’s Legislature made progress on flood resilience in 2022, but significant work remains.

Last month, a Nor’easter left parts of Hampton Roads flooded for days, disrupting transit and damaging property. This situation is a reality for a growing number of Virginians who are experiencing more intense and frequent flooding due to rising sea levels and heavier precipitation.

Without action, coastal flood damages are expected to cost Virginia $5.1 billion annually by 2080, which is why its leaders must use every tool in the toolbox to match the scale of challenges facing people across the Commonwealth.

While Virginia’s General Assembly concluded its 2022 legislative session with several successes, more work is needed – particularly in securing long-term funding for flood resilience, to protect people and natural resources from flood threats now and in the future.

Here are three key takeaways from Virginia’s legislative session relating to flood resilience. Read More »

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Six reasons why wetlands are vital every month of the year.

The Environmental Protection Agency has designated May as American Wetlands Month, a “time to celebrate the vital importance of wetlands to our Nation’s ecological, economic, and social health.”

Scientists and coastal planners increasingly recognize the important role wetlands play in everything from flood protection to water quality to wildlife habitat to economic impact. At the same time, climate change and other stressors threaten wetlands, and in turn, the people and wildlife that rely on them.

As we close out American Wetlands Month, here are six reasons why one of nature’s richest ecosystems provide value to our lives every month of the year. Read More »

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Environmental bond gives New York a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fund a more climate resilient future.

New York Coast

Earlier this month, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and the state legislature successfully included a $4.2 billion Bond Act ballot measure in the final state budget agreement. This is a historic step toward building a climate-resilient New York. If passed by voters in November, the Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Bond Act will leverage the federal Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act and enable historic investments in New York’s environment through an array of solutions that include flood risk reduction, open-space land conservation, climate change mitigation, clean energy projects, environmental justice and water quality improvements.

Here is how the Bond Act puts New York on a path to lasting resilience while also stimulating the economy, creating jobs and benefiting the state’s most vulnerable communities.

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FEMA’s community resilience program is in high demand. This guide can help strengthen applications.

The recent tornado in Louisiana and wildfires in Texas highlight the toll climate change is having on communities across the country. In 2021, the U.S. experienced 20 climate disasters that each cost at least $1 billion in damages, totaling $145 billion and resulting in the tragic loss of 688 lives.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program is anticipated to significantly increase funding for local and state governments, federally recognized tribes and territories for projects that reduce the impacts from disasters like flooding, wildfires and droughts.

EDF commissioned AECOM, a leading global infrastructure firm, to conduct an analysis of prior BRIC applications to develop best practices and recommendations for securing funding for natural infrastructure projects through the program.

Here are ways this resource can help applicants increase their chances of securing this critical funding.

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