The US Army Corps of Engineers should take a holistic approach to reducing the increasing risk of flooding from climate change.
By Natalie Snider
Natalie Snider is Associate Vice President of Climate Resilient Coasts and watersheds at the Environmental Defense Fund.
David Lewis, Special at CalMatters
David Lewis is Executive Director of Save The Bay.
Our country is facing a flood crisis. More people and places are at risk, with climate-induced flooding threatening widespread social, environmental and economic impacts.
We need a holistic approach to reducing the risk of flooding now. The US Army Corps of Engineers focused on building dikes, spillways and reinforced infrastructure to deal with episodic storms. But, by focusing only on storm surges, they leave millions of people exposed to chronic flooding from rising sea levels, extreme tides and rainfall.
The standard operating procedures of the previous century are no longer sufficient. In some cases, strengthened infrastructure exacerbates the risk of flooding, harms natural resources and wildlife, and leaves the most vulnerable communities behind.
That is why nearly 100 organizations surveyed Deputy Secretary of the Army Michael Connor on ushering in an era of bold and innovative action to increase flood resistance today and into the future. The Army Corps of Engineers must understand and address the global flood risks that communities face and develop holistic strategies to reduce them.
Coastal areas experience flooding from rising waters, storm surges, precipitation, and rising rivers and streams. The body should not be planning and making massive investments that only solve one piece of this flood risk puzzle.
This is happening in places like San Francisco, New York, Miami, and Houston, where the body seeks to build massive and extremely expensive levees and gates to cope with storm surges, while ignoring threats of flooding from flooding. sea level rise and extreme precipitation. Many of these tough solutions are expected to take decades to build, while Americans are now affected by flooding.
Rather, the body should take advantage of the greatest assets available by using a hybrid approach that prioritizes natural solutions.
Oyster reefs, barrier islands and marshes can dampen storm surges and push back sea level rise. In the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, over 13,000 acres of marshland Restored coastal areas enhance natural flood protection with crucial habitat for endangered fish and wildlife. Enlightened body policies could help triple these swamps in the decades to come.
The Yolo bypass outside of Sacramento, built to reduce flooding, is now managed to provide 59,000 acres of habitat for endangered chinook salmon and other wildlife.
On the Los Angeles River, years of citizen lawsuits have ended the destructive practices and now the body is helping remove the concrete banks for natural flows and habitat.
Natural solutions are cheaper, which could save $ 489 billion per year according to a recent study, can be implemented faster, can adapt to changes over time, can create jobs and improve quality of life through cleaner water and recreational opportunities.
Equity must also be at the center of the body’s mission.
For too long, the body has made decisions and investments based on cost-benefit analyzes that prioritize protecting the most people and assets at the least cost. This approach exacerbates inequalities and creates a flood risk gap, where low-wealth and underfunded communities find themselves without adequate flood protection and face significant obstacles in disaster recovery. While the wealthiest landlords can more easily bounce back, those who lack generational wealth and resources experience significant multigenerational impacts on their communities, livelihoods, and well-being.
The body must rethink cost-benefit analyzes to incorporate the real and cumulative impacts of flooding. They must advance policies and make investments that prioritize equity and environmental justice for those who face the greatest risks and who have the greatest need.
The recent Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicates that many future impacts of flooding are “blocked”, which means they will occur whether or not we reduce climate emissions. We have seen the result of not preparing in the form of broken levees, emergency water rescues, destroyed businesses and infrastructure, flooded roads, and communities left vacant shells with residents struggling to survive. deal with persistent trauma and economic instability.
We must create a nation that is more flood resilient by preparing today for tomorrow’s flood risks, harnessing nature as a powerful tool, and prioritizing those who need it most. Federal infrastructure programs should lead this change in climate change culture.