Growing Returns

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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The sea is rising faster than ever. How can we prepare?

NOAA and interagency partners just released an updated technical report, showing that sea levels will rise by up to a foot nationally by 2050, and potentially by up to two feet by 2100 depending on rates of emissions.

While the findings are stark, we have an urgent window of opportunity to increase protection for communities, natural resources and infrastructure across our coasts and watersheds.

Here are five recommendations for how government leaders can increase the resilience of coastal communities before the worst effects of sea level rise take hold.

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Virginia Beach’s new flood bond can be a model for other cities. Here’s how.

Virginia Beach, the most populous city in the commonwealth with 38 miles of shoreline, faces increasing flood risk due to rising sea levels and more intense storms. Recurrent flooding hurts critical sectors including the military and tourism, both major contributors to the local economy. 

Fortunately, Virginia Beach voters took an important step to reduce flood risk in their community by passing a historic $567.5 million flood mitigation bond last month. This funding will not only reduce the city’s flood risk — it will also boost the economy and create thousands of jobs. 

As other cities across the country grapple with how to pay for the increasing costs of flood protection projects, here are four ways this bond serves as a model for success.  Read More »

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Natural infrastructure can address growing climate impacts and save hundreds of billions of dollars annually in the process

Across the world, more communities are experiencing significant impacts from our changing climate, with severe weather events becoming “the new norm” according to the recently released State of the Climate report. Without action, these disasters could require $20 billion in annual humanitarian aid according to the International Federation of Red Cross.

As world leaders meet this week in Scotland for COP26, they must do everything in their power to reduce emissions and avoid worsening climate scenarios. It is great to see critical attention to natural climate solutions like avoided tropical forest loss front and center at the COP.

At the same time, we must also invest in solutions that can save lives and property from those climate impacts that are already unavoidable. Fortunately, there are solutions that both reduce climate pollution and protect against impacts already being felt.  A new report by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) provides insight into how to do that, showing that natural infrastructure can save hundreds of billions of dollars annually in climate adaptation costs, while delivering the same or better outcomes as traditional, hardened infrastructure.

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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.

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