Greauxing Resilience at Home: A Regional Vision

 

Goal Two: Greaux natural flood mitigation through targeted infrastructure and development planning.


Introduction

In addition to the roles that natural solutions play in fostering community resilience, as discussed in Goal One, they also can be an important consideration and component of infrastructure and development planning. Infrastructure provides essential functions for daily life, from the roads and bridges that help move people and goods, to the pipes and facilities that provide water and wastewater services, to the energy infrastructure that we rely on for power every day. These services are critical components of what can help a community and local economy thrive, and infrastructure considerations are central to broader development or redevelopment planning.

Despite their importance to communities and local and regional economies, infrastructure and development can also contribute to a variety of environmental challenges — including exacerbating flood risk. The scale of these challenges depends significantly on the geography, hydrology, landscape, and development patterns of an area. Flooding challenges and the impacts on communities and properties look different in different settings: for example, in rural areas, the primary concern may be the need to channel water away from properties and preserve large-scale tracts of land that provide natural flood mitigation, while in urban areas, dealing with runoff and increasing permeability in an otherwise largely impervious built environment may be priorities.

Credit: Rachelle Sanderson, Region Seven Watershed Coordinator, Capital Region Planning Commission. 

While infrastructure and development can contribute to flood risk, they can play a role in mitigating flooding as well, particularly when the role of nature is a key component of infrastructure planning and development requirements. Local governments can ensure that natural flood mitigation is prioritized as much as possible by integrating considerations like open space preservation, nature-based solutions, and green infrastructure investments into infrastructure-related planning processes and land-use and zoning requirements and incentives. 

For purposes of this Regional Vision, nature-based solutions refer to projects that incorporate sustainable, environmental systems and/or processes into the built environment to improve a community’s adaptive capacity through mitigating flood risk, reducing temperatures, improving air quality, and more.See footnote 1 The term “nature-based solutions” will be used broadly in this Regional Vision. Unless otherwise noted, this term is intended to include solutions sometimes referred to as “green infrastructure” or “green stormwater infrastructure,” which seek to manage stormwater where it falls by maximizing permeability, instead of relying on traditional concrete-based stormwater management systems that are often underground.See footnote 2 In addition to benefits of flood mitigation and stormwater management, nature-based solutions have many other social, environmental, and economic co-benefits that can help encourage these investments as part of overall infrastructure and development planning.

This goal focuses on the role that infrastructure and development can play in affecting flood risk, and identifies legal, planning, policy, and project opportunities to expand the use of nature-based solutions, green infrastructure, and other approaches that provide natural flood mitigation. These approaches and opportunities are best considered in conjunction with a jurisdiction’s needs related to housing affordability and development more broadly, and with an emphasis on community resilience, all discussed in the other goals in this Regional Vision.


Land Use and the National Flood Insurance Program

Integrating natural flood mitigation strategies and solutions into planning, land-use and zoning, and other regulations relating to infrastructure and development can help local governments reduce risk while realizing many other environmental, social, health, and other resilience-building benefits. In Louisiana, the use of comprehensive planning, land-use and zoning, and other development regulations by local governments resembles a patchwork of approaches. Some parishes have comprehensive plans (with varying degrees of formal acceptance and thus legal effect) but no zoning; some have both comprehensive planning and zoning, while others have neither. Many parishes have adopted some form of subdivision or other development regulations, regardless of a comprehensive plan and/or zoning ordinance. Floodplain management ordinances, however, are widespread; nearly all local governments in Louisiana participate in the National Flood Insurance Program.See footnote 3 The information below is provided as background and context related to federal flood regulations affecting land use and development at local levels; the terms defined and discussed below will be used throughout the objectives of this goal.

The National Flood Insurance Program, established by the National Flood Insurance Act of 1968,See footnote 4 exists both to “provide access to primary flood insurance” to properties with significant flood risk, and to “mitigate and reduce the nation’s comprehensive flood risk through the development and implementation of floodplain management standards.”See footnote 5 Local governments wishing to participate in the NFIP are required to develop a floodplain management ordinance that, at a minimum, meets the minimum federal standards set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the Code of Federal Regulations.See footnote 6

FEMA undertakes studies to identify “areas within the United States having special flood, mudslide, and flood-related erosion hazards” and to assess flood risk.See footnote 7 In coordination with participating communities, FEMA then uses these studies to develop Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMS), which designate specific types of flood zones depending on the type and magnitude of flood risk. Notably, FIRMS for many years have also served as the basis for flood insurance rates. Of particular focus is the Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA), which encompasses all “flood risk zones that have a chance of flooding during a ‘1 in 100-year flood’ or greater frequency.”See footnote 8 Local governments participating in the NFIP must meet certain standards related to land development within the SFHA, including requiring development permits, requiring that the lowest floor of residential buildings be elevated to or above the Base Flood Elevation (BFE),See footnote 9 restricting development in the regulatory floodway,See footnote 10 and more.See footnote 11 While an in-depth discussion of how flood insurance rate setting is outside the scope of this Goal, it is worth noting that in 2021, FEMA adopted a revised methodology — Risk Rating 2.0 — that is intended to set insurance rates based not only on flood zones but also on more property-specific considerations like building characteristics, past incidence of flooding, and different types of flooding.See footnote 12 FIRMs will still be used for floodplain management purposes and to determine flood insurance purchase requirements.See footnote 13

Individuals within communities participating in the NFIP that have adopted a floodplain management plan and regulations complying with the minimum federal standards can then obtain flood insurance through the program. Even though the NFIP, flood insurance can be very costly, however. To help communities alleviate the cost of flood insurance premiums for residents and simultaneously help to achieve goals related to comprehensive flood risk mitigation, Congress authorized the creation of the Community Rating System (CRS).See footnote 14 The CRS is a subprogram of the NFIP that incentivizes participating communities to go above and beyond the NFIP’s minimum standards in return for flood insurance premium discounts. The goals of the CRS are:

  1. to provide incentives for measures that reduce the risk of flood or erosion damage that exceed the [minimum federal floodplain management criteria] and evaluate such measures; 
  2. to encourage the adoption of more effective measures that protect natural and beneficial floodplain functions; 
  3. to encourage floodplain and erosion management; and 
  4. to promote the reduction of Federal flood insurance losses.See footnote 15

Communities can receive CRS credits by undertaking a range of activities, which then qualify them to receive a classification rating that corresponds to insurance discounts. Importantly, CRS credits communities for activities that minimize flood risk for new development, including preserving open space, protecting natural floodplain functions, promoting higher regulatory standards and regulating new development in the floodplain, and regulating development in the watershed.See footnote 16

This goal identifies legal, planning, policy, and project-related solutions for parishes and municipalities that wish to greaux resilience through natural flood mitigation, and specifically, by integrating nature-based solutions and flood mitigation considerations into different infrastructure and development planning, regulation, and investment processes. To the extent that solutions discussed can help communities reduce flood insurance costs by obtaining CRS credit, these opportunities are called out, in addition to other social and environmental co-benefits. The solutions discussed in this goal are also intended to be considered as part of a more holistic approach that considers community resilience, housing affordability, infrastructure, and natural flood mitigation, depending on an individual jurisdiction’s needs and priorities. As with the other goals in the Regional Vision, the solutions identified here should also be considered and implemented using the implementation and capacity-building solutions discussed in Goal Five.

The parts that follow introduce the five objectives that were identified as priorities through the process to develop the Regional Vision. Again, this is not intended to be an exhaustive list of every action a jurisdiction could implement to greaux natural flood mitigation and resilience through infrastructure and development planning, regulation, and investment. Moreover, these objectives are only intended to serve as a starting point for many parishes, municipalities, and communities in Region Seven and Louisiana that are already adopting some flood mitigation solutions related to infrastructure and development. As such, policymakers may consider and see all or parts of their community in one, all, or some of the objectives. The objectives are also informed by informational interviews, case studies, and other resources to suggest how policymakers may evaluate and use them in practice.

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