Nipping The Impact Of Floods In The Bud

2019-10-01T10:51:56+00:00 September 30, 2019|
(Credit: Jon Sullivan/Pixnio)

(Credit: Jon Sullivan/Pixnio)

From: Ocean News Weekly/ By: Ocean Leadership Staff 

What it was

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) held a briefing titled “Surging Waters: Science Empowering Communities in the Face of Flooding”

Why It Matters

Floods are the costliest, most frequent type of disaster in the United States, accounting for hundreds of deaths and costing the U.S. economy an estimated $54 billion annually. To illustrate the role of science in finding solutions and mitigating impacts, AGU released a report looking at flooding in the United States and how science is shaping management policies for three types of inundation: flooding due to hurricanes, floods in the central United States, and coastal flooding.

Key Points

Discussion centered around three key points: science is essential to combat flood events; effective, proactive collaboration is necessary for successful policy; and federal and local government have an important role to play in ensuring active, innovative, and accessible research.

All panelists agreed on the vital importance of collaborative data collection to mitigate destructive impacts of flooding on people and property, especially critical infrastructure such as military installations and nuclear power plants. Dr. Jennifer Jurado (Director and Chief Resiliency Officer, Environmental Planning and Community Resilience Division, Broward County, Florida) explained how with more data, Broward and surrounding counties successfully created a unified sea level rise projection and groundwater table map. By using data from federal agencies — including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the U. S. Geological Survey — and partnering with academic institutions, they created planning baselines with regional support. However, not all city managers have access to the needed data. For example, in some areas, roads are being elevated and sea walls are being built higher, but without enough data, these actions may not prove as effective as hoped (e.g., a seawall is built higher but not to a height deemed appropriate based on modeled future conditions).

Panelists expanded on the importance of collaboration within the physical science community as well as between scientists and communities. All agreed that no one sector can provide every solution to flood management, so agency partners, academic institutions, and community leaders must all prioritize proactive partnerships. Dr. Michelle Covi (Assistant Professor of Practice, Ocean, Earth & Atmospheric Sciences, Old Dominion University) cited the success of the Hampton Roads region in facilitating community use of science by bringing together agencies, industry, and academic institutions in forums and by utilizing the Virginia Sea Grant program. Several panelists also spoke on challenges of stepping out of the technical world and working with communities, such as communicating complex issues clearly and engaging residents not directly affected.

Accompanying these discussions were reminders of costs to data collection and collaboration. Representatives Lizzie Fletcher (TX-7) and Ted Deutch (FL-22), who provided opening remarks, agreed with the report and panelists that the federal government needs to prioritize funding for flood-related research. Dr. Gerry Galloway (Research Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Maryland) cited the 2018 report on rebuilding Texas after Hurricane Harvey as an effective funding tool. The report lays out clear objectives and shows how data and funding feed off each other: data leads to better funding, and more funding leads to better data.

Quotable 

“What we need fundamentally is a better understanding of the conditions that generate hurricanes and these rain events. We know from firsthand experience that the conditions in our community are changing, and I think that’s true across the country — we are seeing more intense and more frequent tropical storms, we’re seeing them last longer. We know that there’s a relationship between what’s happening with the warming of our oceans and the duration of our rains, we are aware of this, but we need help figuring out what we do next, and that’s where there’s a great opportunity for collaborative efforts between scientists, government, and individuals.” — Representative Lizzie Fletcher (TX-7)

“We’ve got to continue to fund research that will give us a bridge to a clean future and resilient communities.” — Representative Ted Deutch (FL-22)

“Extreme weather is growing in severity as a result of climate change, and this may become the new normal for all of us. While we see immediate devastation of a big flood, we don’t see enough about the role that science plays to help and how communities then use that science to prepare and adapt and have resilience for the future.” — Ms. Chris McEntee (Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of AGU)

“Our best science and data collection is needed to understand our complex coastal flooding issue, explore our response options, and then through engagement with our communities we can work together to plan for our future, to create policies and programs that don’t leave our most vulnerable behind ” —  Dr. Michelle Covi (Assistant Professor of Practice, Ocean, Earth & Atmospheric Sciences, Old Dominion University)

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