U.S. Flood Risk Management Needs New Approach

halcrowIt’s time to change how we deal with flood risks, say top scientists with the U.S. National Research Council. According to a recent report, the experts are urging for a “national vision” that will take precautionary, rather than reactionary, approaches to flooding, particularly in the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, where water has reached flood levels an average of 20 days per year since 2001.

Indeed, thanks to increases in population and property along coastal regions, along with climate-change-driven threats like storm surges, sea-level rises, and more intense hurricanes, storm-related losses are more likely than ever.

Currently, the majority of money spent on mitigating coastal risk is spent on recovery after a flood disaster, rather than precautionary measures to mitigate damage. Adding to the problem is the fact that coastal risk reduction responsibility is shared piecemeal by federal, state and local agencies without any central leadership strategies.

Incentives also cause property developers to continue to build in flood-prone areas, while the resulting tax revenue encourages local governments to support these (typically high-end) developments. But when the flood damage occurs, it’s the federal government and tax payers left holding the bill.

Instead of cleaning up destroyed properties and coastal areas, municipalities and governments could instead build infrastructures (seawalls, etc.) and encourage natural storm protection (dune building, etc.) to reduce flooding or wave damage, or enact policies that require people and property to stay out of flood zones.

Whatever U.S. state and federal leaders decide to do, flood risk planning would benefit from some element of quantitative risk analysis to help pinpoint the right balance between cost and mitigation efforts.

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