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Fresh from Hurricane Harvey, Houston has suffered through the consequences of their inadequate flood mitigation strategies. The flood conditions could be even worse this season—starting June 1—and preparations made by local and state governments will be under the microscope. Will they set aside the money for mitigation efforts, or will they roll the dice?

The social, economic, environmental, and structural effects of flooding vary depending on the location and severity of the flooding. Moreover, flood mitigation strategies themselves can expose the vulnerabilities of communities. Implementing successful mitigation requires cross-district and state policy regulations—storm water, for example, doesn’t obey municipal lines. To implement flood abatement and prevent catastrophic events from potentially raining down on their citizens, cities and townships should decide how to allocate funding: education, city infrastructure, or public services. Government officials and local professionals must draw upon current flooding data in their geographical range to justify appropriate funds and move forward with plans that can preserve not only economic dignity but also the lives of those at risk.  

Educating citizens about how to prepare and having emergency plans for every department are crucial in developing a more resilient city. Local communities are responsible for mitigating repetitive flood problems by implementing educational measures, including information about emergency routes and actions to take in the case of a flood event—such as not crossing a flooded area, not re-entering homes prematurely, or not drinking tap water that could potentially be contaminated. Education, however, is only a small part of this equation and should act as a catalyst that spurs citizens to push their government to allocate the funding to support the physical components of the mitigation strategy.

Both built and natural infrastructure affect the extent of flooding consequences from storm surges. Natural structures include channels and natural floodplains, while built structures are comprised of damns, levees, and flood walls. Investment in city resilience planning reduces the flood time within a city, decreases property loss, and lessens the mortality risk while also keeping a city economically afloat during a tragedy—because businesses remain open.

Strong organizational commitment to flood protection is not a one-time deal. It requires long-term adjustment of policy. Analyzing what worked, what didn’t, and the changing conditions of the built environment inform smart policy. These factors should be adaptive instruments used to respond to various ecological and human-made systems.

Within the past 20 years, we have begun to see dramatic shifts in rain patterns, which lead to extreme weather events. The swings in air and ocean currents are changing global weather patterns at a high rate (some research on that can be found here). Every community has flooding risk, but deviations show increased likelihood of flooding in places with little to no experience with extreme flooding, as Houston discovered last summer.

As our weather shifts, our priorities should follow suit. Commitment to preemptive flood abatement measures needs to be demonstrated in community budgets. Among the noise surrounding climate change and weather shifts are many helpful and potentially life-saving pieces of wisdom. At the very least, we ought to be concerned about the economic benefits of taking preemptive action—a precautionary strike may be the only way to protect ourselves and our communities from the potentially ruinous effects of storm water.

 

For Further Reading:

Flood Ready

Natural Hazards