Floods and other natural disasters do not observe new, COVID-19 pandemic behavioral norms such as social distancing. Even while people were following stay in place orders, tornadoes ripped through the Southeast in April, leaving behind death, destruction and uncertainty over how to respond to victims when resources were at their most strained. As we now move through spring and into summer, the likelihood of floods caused by rain-swollen rivers, hurricanes or even high-tide events will increase, each carrying their own significant health, safety, environmental and economics cost at a time when communities are already suffering.
Governments at all levels have sought measures to discourage development in flood zones, such as FEMA’s subsidized insurance. The success rate has been mixed, as many states don’t require flood disclosures to prospective home buyers and enforcement efforts are inconsistent. Voluntary property buyouts are another planned retreat strategy that encourage homeowners to leave a flood-prone area, but they have seen limited success and often leave vulnerable residents behind. And now the prospect of a nationwide economic downturn compounded by the inability to easily relocate may put more people in harm’s way during flood season this year.
Strategies to improve flood resilience are not just limited to removing homes, especially along coastlines. In addition to more traditional ‘hard’ infrastructure solutions, such as seawalls or bulkheads, planners and resource managers have been using ‘green’ infrastructure as a way to both protect properties and restore natural landscapes. Green or nature-based solutions including marsh or wetland restoration, reef protection and dune creation can be deployed along with traditional infrastructure to best fit the needs of a specific landscape and community. In some floodplains, these practices can also translate to installing permeable pavements, building stormwater ponds and underground catch basins or simply creating open spaces to allow for water flows.
Researchers at Stanford have looked at the impacts of high-tide flooding, flood resilience and ways to manage retreat in a changing climate that offer approaches designed to aid policy and decision makers. Planning now to manage the certainty of future floods, especially while in the midst of another disaster, would help improve outcomes and increase community resiliency.