Greauxing Resilience at Home: A Regional Vision


Objective 2.1:

Collaborate regionally to identify upstream investments in the infrastructure and natural environment that will mitigate downstream flooding.

The Need

In watershed regions across the country, and within Region Seven, local governments are increasingly recognizing a need to collaborate at regional scales to alleviate challenges associated with flooding. Water does not respect jurisdictional boundaries; it will flow to lower-lying areas using the path of least resistance.See footnote 1 This reality can create challenges for downstream communities that cannot be easily — or even entirely — resolved by these communities on their own. Collaboration and coordination with upstream communities across regional and watershed scales are important for the resilience and safety of people as well as infrastructure and ecosystems in flood-prone regions. Ultimately, a watershed-based approach can help yield greater flood mitigation outcomes.See footnote 2

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

In Louisiana, this need for regional approaches to flood mitigation was especially apparent following the historic 2016 floods, leading to the creation of the Louisiana Watershed Initiative (LWI) and a goal of regional, watershed-based flood risk management.See footnote 3 The state has recognized the need to work “within the interdependencies of [its] communities, infrastructure, political jurisdictions, and natural environment to increase Louisiana’s resilience and its ability to adapt and thrive.”See footnote 4 LWI is designed to facilitate intra- and inter-watershed collaboration to improve governance and decisionmaking around investments that will improve flood mitigation.

This is no easy task, however. Funding is limited, and local governments are accustomed to thinking about physical infrastructure investments in terms of what they can do within their own jurisdictional bounds to achieve better outcomes for their communities. Regional watershed-scale planning and decisionmaking requires consideration of larger-scale complex relationships in the built and natural environments, and in certain instances, advocating for investments that are outside a given parish or municipal government’s own authority in the interest of greater regional resilience. This objective aims to “greaux” regional resilience by calling for Region Seven parishes and local governments to work together in identifying built or natural infrastructure investments that maximize flood mitigation outcomes for the region — focusing especially on needs of downstream communities.

How to Make Progress on This Objective

Regional coordination and governance are challenging. However, as noted in the Introduction to this Regional Vision, Region Seven parishes and municipalities already have a mechanism in place in the LWI through which to coordinate on setting priorities for investments that will mitigate downstream flooding. Although the regional steering committees established in each of the LWI regions are not legislatively authorized entities as of early 2022, for purposes of region-wide watershed management and decisionmaking, they have served as a starting point for parishes and other authorities within each LWI region to build relationships and a common practice of collaboration and coordination, which is critical to the success of any regional governance effort — regardless of the level of formal decisionmaking authority.

A regional governance analysis completed by the LWI for Region Seven indicated that there are multiple authorities across the region involved in water management roles, none of which have the authority to operate throughout the entire watershed region.See footnote 5 Within each individual parish, parish and municipal governments hold the majority of authorities relevant to mitigating flooding impacts, including adopting and enforcing of land-use and zoning ordinances, developing watershed management plans and floodplain management standards, generating revenue through taxation and bonding, and implementing projects.See footnote 6

The Regional Capacity Building Grant Program (RCBG) was developed as one component of the LWI to help the eight regions initially build capacity for coordination, develop regional steering committees, and make recommendations for work plans and long-term watershed coalitions.See footnote 7 Each region submitted final recommendations for a long-term watershed coalition in August 2021. Phase 2 of the RCBG Program is intended to support continued flood risk reduction efforts and to implement recommendations for the long-term watershed coalitions.See footnote 8

In the absence of a legislatively authorized regional governing entity for watershed management for Region Seven, or in the interim until such an entity is created, Region Seven parishes and municipalities should continue to work together in assessing flood risks and mitigation needs that would best serve the region. However, there are additional options for Region Seven local governments in the absence of a state-established regional governance structure for watershed-based planning.

Local governments in Louisiana have options for formalizing agreements to jointly develop projects, including for flood control and drainage, or to engage in other joint exercises of local powers,See footnote 9 and regional planning commissions are authorized to form associations for the purposes of broader regional planning efforts.See footnote 10 Parishes are also authorized to form drainage districts that span more than one parish,See footnote 11 which could be a useful tool for addressing cross-boundary drainage and flooding challenges at smaller watershed scales. Regional governance (i.e., decisionmaking) can take a variety of forms, though, and does not necessarily have to be formalized to be effective. Many regional collaboratives across the United States are demonstrating the values of coordinating regionally — yet informally (i.e., without formal regional authority) — to build resilience.See footnote 12

Regardless of formality, regional coordination can be an effective capacity-building tool and a way to pool and leverage limited resources, share knowledge and expertise, and undertake studies that can inform regional to local decisionmaking. In the context of planning for investments that will improve resilience at regional scales, regional collaboration could take the form of: 

  • Jointly sponsoring or undertaking regional studies to help identify priority locations for investments (e.g., the four-county Southeast Florida region developed a Unified Sea-Level Rise Projection for use by decisionmakers in the individual counties), 
  • Coordinating in the development of watershed master plans (which can earn communities credit under the Community Rating System), 
  • Partnering to seek and apply for funding from additional federal or other sources, and 
  • Sharing best policy practices and facilitating other peer learning opportunities.See footnote 13

Any of these activities, undertaken in partnership, could help Region Seven parishes build flood resilience within communities and at the broader regional scale.

For more information on regional coordination and governance more broadly, see Objective 5.4.

Crosscutting Practice Considerations and Tips

When identifying and promoting ways to promulgate or expand regional collaboration, decisionmakers may consider the following crosscutting considerations and practice tips that apply to each of the above types of tools and actions:

  • Build in time and budget for engaging communities and elected officials 
  • Building and maintain trust and relationships
  • Identify data and modeling and other needs that can be met through regional collaboration
  • Build public-private-nonprofit-community partnerships

These tips are based on priority implementation best practices and considerations most relevant to this specific objective and do not present an exhaustive list for regional and local planners and policymakers. In addition to this objective, decisionmakers should, at a minimum, also refer to Goal Five for crosscutting considerations and practice tips including those related to regional coordination and new capacity-building partnerships.

It is important to acknowledge that every jurisdiction will be starting from a different place and have a unique local context and needs, among other factors. Therefore, these considerations and practice tips could be adopted individually, collectively, or not at all. It will be up to policymakers to work directly with their communities and other key stakeholders and partners to assess and determine potential tools and approaches to implement this goal and objective. 

  • Build in time and budget for engaging communities and elected officials: Collaborating regionally is challenging for many reasons, but support from both community and elected official levels can go a long way. Robust outreach efforts to inform and engage communities, especially those most impacted by these challenges, such as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), low-income, and resource-constrained communities, around priorities for flood resilience and how a region-wide approach could help can generate bottom-up momentum for regional-scale initiatives. Additionally, elected officials should be informed at key points to ensure that there is legislative and executive buy-in before any necessary action items arise, especially regarding votes or decisions related to budget and funding, or project prioritization.
  • Build and maintain trust and relationships: Trust and transparency are critical for the success of regional initiatives that involve multiple local governments. Collaboration provides unique opportunities for parish and municipal staff to engage with peers and counterparts from other jurisdictions, and work towards common goals, which can include regional-, state-, and even federal-level projects. Building these relationships and trust over time helps to generate a collective will to pursue joint projects or funding opportunities, rather than compete for them.See footnote 14 Thus, over time, collaboration may help mitigate some of the sensitivities and political challenges associated with advocating for investments within another jurisdiction in pursuit of the greater regional benefit. Trust and relationship-building among staff involved in regional collaboration can also create continuity, which can help maintain momentum even as leadership and elected officials transition over time.See footnote 15
  • Identify data and modeling and other needs that can be met through regional collaboration: Collaboration can be an extremely effective way of maximizing outcomes with less individual input — a case where the whole may be greater than the sum of its parts. Scientific and technical studies and assessments can be very costly to undertake for an individual jurisdiction, however, the cost to expand such a study or assessment to a larger geographic scale is often not significantly more. In many instances, it is more cost-effective for neighboring jurisdictions to pool resources (or partner to secure joint funding) to pay for these efforts, compared to singular jurisdictions undertaking their own individual studies or assessments. For example, the four-county Southeast Florida region has developed unified sea-level rise projections and climate indicators for the region and completed a regional greenhouse gas inventory, among other regional-scale projects.See footnote 16 Similarly, jurisdictions working together can better leverage the differing expertise from among the pool of participating staff to advance the goals of regional working groups and other collective efforts and programs. 
  • Build public-private-nonprofit-community partnershipsWhile historically decisionmaking has been limited to governmental participants, recent studies show that diversity and inclusion in decisionmaking spaces and prioritizing procedural equity has led to better outcomes.See footnote 17 Looking outside parish and municipal governments to partners in nonprofit, academic, community, and other circles can help bring in expertise to fill gaps from the core group of participating government officials. These partners can also help to neutralize challenging conversations and facilitate ways to build consensus across a region.

The summaries below highlight resources and case studies available in Georgetown Climate Center’s Adaptation Clearinghouse that are relevant to this objective. They illustrate how many of the above benefits, practice tips, and planning, legal, and policy tools were or are being evaluated and used in practice in different jurisdictions. To learn more and navigate to the Adaptation Clearinghouse, click on the “View Resource” buttons. 

Related Resources

State of Iowa and State of Texas: Regional Water Planning

The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB or Board) is a governmental entity in the state of Texas that coordinates water planning and water project financing, often with collaboration from other state agencies and entities. The TWDB partners with other Texas state entities, such as the Department of Agriculture and Division of Emergency Management, to coordinate funding allocations and water resource management throughout the state. TWDB also designates Flood Planning Region inside the state. TWDB is currently engaged in regional flood planning for the state, and the Board is in the process of creating new regional flood plans that will inform the development of a first-ever statewide flood plan scheduled for completion in 2023 and 2024, respectively.

Iowa has a statutorily created Water Resources Coordinating Council (WRCC) within the Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship that includes members from Iowa University deans, officials from other state departments, and federal representation from EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers, and other federal officials or designees who oversee regional or state-focused policies affecting Iowa water. WRCC oversees the statewide regional watershed assessment program, which assesses all state watersheds over the course of five-year rotations. Much like TWDB, the WRCC also takes various coordinating actions, such as reviewing voluntary management best practices, developing protocols for interagency regional watershed coordination, and contracts with partners and third parties. These examples from Texas and Iowa may provide useful models for other regions regarding statewide and regional interagency coordination relating to watershed management.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Houston, Texas: Resilient Houston and Affordable Housing and Nature-Based Efforts

Houston has been battered by six federally declared flooding disasters in five years, including the record-setting Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Following Hurricane Harvey, the city created its Resilient Houston plan to guide investments to make Houston more resilient to future storms and disasters. Goals 8 and 18 of Resilient Houston seek to foster collaboration with other counties and regional entities to promote integrated watershed management. Regional cooperation of this kind is consistent with Houston’s efforts under Goal 10 to create a “one water plan” that prioritizes resilient infrastructure and coordinates federal, state, and local efforts to develop a Stormwater Master Plan. Multiple goals in Resilient Houston thus seek to move away from managing flood waters at only the city level and toward conserving natural benefits through local and regional collaboration and innovation. These nature-based drainage approaches include promoting denser urban infill to relieve green spaces, leveraging flood mitigation investments with multi-functional design elements, and incentivizing GSI on private property to “mimic the natural flow of water in pre-development conditions.” Houston’s example can help other jurisdictions consider opportunities for regional watershed coordination to help enhance flood readiness by coordinating efforts across multiple jurisdictions experiencing similar risks and challenges. 

Virginia Beach Sea Level Wise Adaptation Strategy

The City of Virginia Beach, Virginia Sea Level Wise Adaptation Strategy is designed to help guide the city’s steps to become more resilient and adapt to sea level rise and flooding by gradually implementing actions through a watershed-based approach. Virginia Beach consists of four watersheds, both inland and coastal, that are characterized by unique physical properties and land-use patterns and affected by five distinct types of flooding - high tide, wind tide, storm surge, rainfall/compounding, and groundwater flooding. To accommodate these differences, four watershed-specific plans were developed with a suite of adaptation tools and projects for each watershed. The city applied a general “Adaptation Framework” that includes four primary categories of adaptation tools or responses - natural mitigations, engineered defenses, adapted structures, and prepared communities - to address the diverse needs of each of the city’s watersheds. The strategy is the result of a five-year, city-led effort to engage the community and study sea level rise and flooding in Virginia Beach. The strategy is noteworthy for identifying adaptation tools and projects based on the different types of flooding that occur in each of the city’s watersheds. Other local governments may consider this example to similarly craft watershed- or neighborhood-scale adaptation plans in jurisdictions with diverse flooding risks, geographies, and land-use patterns.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Austin, Texas: Affordable Housing and Green Infrastructure Efforts

Austin’s watershed management plan was most recently updated in 2016, with the original plan being adopted 20 years prior. The updated initiative, the Watershed Protection Strategic Plan, aims to address complex challenges including climate change, population growth, and racial inequities related to how low-income communities of color in Austin have historically been underserved by the city. With regards to flooding, the next iteration of the plan aims to capture a more holistic version of risk that incorporates social vulnerability with technical risk data. The updates will be informed by climate projections as well as a National Weather Service rainfall study conducted for Texas in 2018 titled Atlas 14 that includes more recent flood-related data to enable the city to more accurately predict flood risk. Through the watershed plan update, the city also intends to increase community engagement beyond that involved for the original 2001 plan by putting more time and effort into meeting a broad cross-section of residents through different means. In addition, the new data and plan will inform potential amendments to the city’s floodplain management regulations, including the boundary of the 100-year floodplain and where future development may occur relative to that boundary. Other cities can learn from Austin’s approach to leading with data and planning to guide future regulatory changes.

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