Greauxing Resilience at Home: A Regional Vision

 

Objective 5.2:

Identify priority data needs around flooding, drainage, and mitigation options to inform legal, planning, and policy decisions at the regional, parish, and municipal levels.

The Need

Policymakers and planners should identify priority data needs to craft credible and useful solutions for flooding, drainage, and mitigation. Currently, more data are critical to inform legal, planning, policy, and project decisions at the regional, parish, and municipal levels. Some priority issues most relevant to the Regional Vision include the need for more: (1) forward-looking and comprehensive data; (2) inclusive data; (3) bridges and resources to translate and make data available for policymakers and the public to support resilience efforts. 

           

Descriptions: Rain causing flooding in Hammond, Louisiana (left); Post-hurricane debris in Louisiana (right).

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

Forward-Looking Data

Decisions around flooding, drainage, and mitigation must be data driven. There are publicly available data sources on food risk, but the data is often not presented in a forward-looking manner that analyzes and predicts future environmental and climate trends and impacts. For example, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)’s National Risk Index (NRI) is an online mapping tool that can help communities across the United States understand their current relative risk and resilience related to natural hazards. The NRI identifies the relative vulnerability of all counties and U.S. Census tracts to 18 natural hazards including flooding. The relative vulnerability is based on detailed data and estimates of expected annual economic losses, social vulnerability, and community resilience. The NRI is intended to be used to aid local governments and communities in setting priority actions. Policymakers can use the NRI to identify where more refined risk assessments or improvements in building standards or codes may be needed. However, the NRI only uses historical data and does not incorporate climate projections, account for future hazard forecasts, or projected climate impacts.See footnote 1 

Similarly, FEMA’s Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMS) designate flood zones and capture risk at a moment in time for a series of storm events. These maps have legal relevance. At a high level, these maps are used to inform some federal flood insurance requirements under the National Flood Insurance Program. For example, if a resident lives in Flood Zone A and purchases a home with a federally backed mortgage, that resident must carry flood insurance. FIRMS also affect local land-use and zoning decisions and participation in the Community Rating System

Despite the legal significance of FIRMS, they do not capture the future risk that communities may face as a result of sea-level rise, increased rainfall totals over shorter periods of time, and changing conditions as a result of development or the implementation of projects. This is critical in the context of the challenges facing Region Seven and others because these maps may become outdated with regard to environmental data.

Additionally, local jurisdictions can draw on tools like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Atlas 14 for precipitation frequency estimates (i.e., how much rain falls over how long and what event that correlates to). When local jurisdictions have ordinances that specify drainage standards, they can utilize this data. For example, for a ten-year, two-hour rain event based on NOAA Atlas 14, the City of Hammond, Louisiana can plan to build their drainage infrastructure to accommodate about four inches of rain. However, climate change is causing jurisdictions to accumulate more rain over less time.See footnote 2 Thus, in the future, a ten-year, two-hour rain event in that same location may result in about six inches of rain. Notably, after the most recent NOAA Atlas 14 update, several cities saw increased rainfall totals for a 100-year event.See footnote 3 According to NOAA, that update found “significantly higher rainfall frequency values in parts of Texas, redefining the amount of rainfall it takes to qualify as a 100-year or 1,000-year event.See footnote 4 “In Austin, . . . the 100-year rainfall amounts for 24 hours increased as much as three inches up to 13 inches[, and] 100-year estimates around Houston increased from 13 inches to 18 inches and values previously classified as 100-year events are now much more frequent 25-year events.See footnote 5 

In addition to drainage infrastructure, Atlas 14 is used to “manage development in floodplains for FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program.”See footnote 6 Here, incomplete or outdated data sets illustrate how one source of information can have cascading impacts affecting other agencies, levels of government, and communities.

From the federal to the state level in Louisiana, in June 2017, the Louisiana State Legislature unanimously approved the state’s 2017 Coastal Master Plan, which updates the state’s 2012 plan. Prepared by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plans serve as a 50-year blueprint to guide hard structural (e.g., shoreline armoring, sediment diversion, and nature-based project investments to build a more sustainable coast.See footnote 7 The 2017 plan includes predictive models that analyze “future landscape and ecosystem conditions and the effects restoration and risk reduction projects have on those conditions.”See footnote 8 The predictive models “helped CPRA estimate the effects of projects on flood depths and direct economic damage” and “provide a holistic view of [Louisiana’s] coastal environment today and the changes [the state] can expect over the next 50 years.”See footnote 9As of summer 2021, CPRA is focusing on the 2023 Coastal Master Plan Update. This plan is one example of data presented in a forward-looking manner. However, the plan only looks at flooding on the coast. The “Great Floods of 2016” (see Introduction) highlighted a need to look at flooding more comprehensively across watersheds from the inland to coastal spectrum. 

In response to the need for more comprehensive flooding data and the 2016 catalyst, in 2018, Governor John Bel Edwards launched the Louisiana Watershed Initiative (LWI). In 2019, the state recognized that one of the challenges associated with achieving statewide flood-risk reduction was a lack of current, reliable data to help determine future flood risks. Louisiana also identified flooding as a cross-jurisdictional issue necessitating more collaborative investments in data collection and modeling.See footnote 10 

The state is working to address some of these data deficiencies through the modeling and data and rain and river gauge network programs.See footnote 11 Through the modeling and data program, the state is partnering with consultants to develop statewide hydrologic and hydraulic models.See footnote 12 Through the rain and river gauge network program, the state is installing additional rainfall and streamflow gauges through a gauge network that will contribute to the overall understanding of flood risk as it relates to rainfall and stream flows and heights. However, as of summer 2022, these data are not available yet. Further, parishes and municipalities may need different types and levels of data to inform locally relevant and specific decisionmaking efforts. 

Data sets that include analysis and predictions about future trends and impacts will allow decisionmakers to create laws, plans, and policies that more comprehensively take into account the impacts facing communities and better prepare them to adapt to changing conditions. 

Inclusive Data 

Beyond a lack of sufficient forward-looking data, there are a few other priority trends that are worth noting. First, the data presented in tools and reports is more often quantitative rather than qualitative. Quantitative data is quantifiable, numerical data. Conversely, qualitative data is data that can be observed (e.g., through interviews) but necessarily cannot be measured on a numeric scale.See footnote 13 A lack of collecting and analyzing quantitative and qualitative data together leads to an absence of informed and holistic decisions around flood resilience. Second, data disproportionately leaves out Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), and low-income communities.See footnote 14 These deficiencies fail to paint a full picture of the actual flood risk facing a community and concurrently lead to incomplete decisions. 

Resources to Translate and Make Data Available to End Users

In addition to challenges with risk assessment data, currently, there are not enough tools or examples available for policymakers to translate this data into decisionmaking. Specifically, policymakers and communities require accessible and user-friendly tools, resources, and technical assistance to identify and assess the benefits and tradeoffs associated with different flood mitigation options and adaptation tools and strategies to build resilience. There are some legal and policy toolkits and databases that present a suite of potential flood mitigation options — from structural elevations to buyouts to drainage basins and retention ponds — local governments and communities may consider to adapt to flooding. However, there are few mediums that link actual flood risk data for a given locality together with potential adaptation options to support legal, planning, policy, and project efforts. More data is needed to communicate with policymakers the anticipated or actual benefits from investing in flood data and mitigation to justify past and support continued investment in these efforts. 

Beyond parish and municipal governments, public access to data about flood and housing risk is also limited. At present, not enough data is accessible. Creating data tools can also be useful for accountability and transparency purposes as well as monitoring the implementation of plans, laws, policies, or projects. 

Given the foregoing, policymakers in Region Seven and beyond should consider how to better identify priority data needs around flooding, drainage, and mitigation options to inform legal, planning, and policy decisions at the regional, parish, and municipal levels, especially in BIPOC and low-income communities.


How to Make Progress on This Objective

This part presents four separate, but related elements that regional and local governments can consider to make progress on this objective: 

  • Quantitative and qualitative data
  • Existing sources of data
  • Assessing future data needs; and 
  • Using data to build resilience. 

These elements can be explored separately or together. However, they are all well connected and can build on one another to ideally support more complete and comprehensive decisionmaking efforts. Regardless, at the start of every process, parish and municipal governments should first identify their priority data needs. These priority needs should be guided by the goals and parameters of the relevant decisionmaking effort and informed by community input. This initial step can more effectively shape a landscape assessment of what types and sources of data already exist and where new data is required. When looking at this objective, decisionmakers should also look to Objective 5.3, which expands considerations in this part to evaluating flood mitigation decisions in the context of affordable housing, infrastructure, and green spaces.

Quantitative and Qualitative Data 

Data-driven decisions around flooding, drainage, and mitigation should ideally use a mix of quantitative and qualitative data sets. When identifying priority data needs and utilizing data to inform legal, planning, policy, and project decisions at the regional, parish, and municipal levels, quantitative data should be integrated and aligned with qualitative data to enable more comprehensive approaches to “greaxing” or growing resilience. 

In regards to flooding, quantitative data may include data about land use, future precipitation patterns, and demographics over different geographic and temporal scales. Quantitative data sets can be produced by governmental entities (e.g., United States Census Bureau) or nongovernmental entities (e.g., Headwaters Economics). In pursuit of this objective specifically, regional and local governments will have to find ways to access, maintain, and update these types of data, in addition to combining them into one or a few usable platforms. Integrated or coordinated data mechanisms can draw more attention to the relationship between these sectors to better support holistic decisionmaking efforts.

Moreover, qualitative data may include information about people’s cultural and emotional ties to land, community perspectives about climate issues, and stories about the personal impacts of flooding. To gather qualitative data, residents can provide important data points based on their local knowledge and lived experiences to inform vulnerability assessments and identify priority resilience goals and needs. Parish and municipal governments should evaluate strategies and partnerships to work directly with residents and community-based organizations to learn from them in ways that honor and respect their histories and insights (for recommendations and best practices for community engagement generally, see Objective 5.1). 

In pursuing quantitative and qualitative data jointly, policymakers will have to evaluate how to bring both sets and types of information together in ways that accurately and meaningfully illustrate the bigger picture of flooding in communities changing over time and simultaneously support legal, planning, policy, and project decisions. 

Existing Sources of Data 

There are currently various publicly available sources of flooding data produced by public or private entities that could be relevant for parishes and municipalities in Region Seven. These sources of data may include tools that analyze just flood risk or social vulnerability, or sources that integrate both. This part of the objective lays out a few examples of each type of tool that may be of interest to parish and municipal policymakers in Region Seven. However, this objective is not intended to present an exhaustive list of all of the potential tools and resources, let alone those that are specific to or have been developed by individual jurisdictions. 

In Louisiana, decisionmakers can use the Louisiana FloodMaps Portal from Louisiana State University’s College of Agriculture to determine information like flood risk over different geographic and temporal scales. The portal includes FEMA FIRMS and a scenarios guide and tool to evaluate different designs and elevations for homes and other structures relative to base flood levels. 

Another example is First Street Foundation’s Flood Factor, a free online tool Americans can use to determine their property’s flood risk and understand the ways that flooding is changing due to climate change. Flood Factor is the first publicly available, peer-reviewed tool to consider changes in the environment due to climate change and as a result, illustrate how property-related flood risks change over time. Flood Factor determines any location’s probability of flooding from four major sources and how they are influenced by future conditions like sea-level rise: rain, riverine, tidal events, and storm surge. People can use the tool to evaluate flood risk on two different scales for individual properties and across larger areas like parishes or counties. Flood Factor can serve as a crucial source of information for property owners, in addition to regional and local policymakers and infrastructure agencies, among other decisionmakers and stakeholders. As such, Flood Factor can help inform decisions like where people might choose to live and support future development and adaptation decisions.

The Center for Disease Control’s Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI) is one example of a publicly available tool for assessing social vulnerability. County-level socioeconomic and demographic data collected from 2006 to 2010 were used to construct the index of social vulnerability to environmental hazards for the United States. SoVI graphically illustrates the geographic variation in social vulnerability at a county level. It shows where there is an uneven capacity for preparedness and response, and where resources might be used most effectively to reduce the vulnerability. SoVI also is useful as an indicator in determining the differential recovery potential from disaster events.

The previous examples are of data sources that analyze flood risk and social vulnerability separately. Neighborhoods at Risk is a free, online data tool from Headwaters Economics that provides information about how communities across the United States are being impacted by climate change and integrates data about both flood risk and social vulnerability. In particular, the tool displays which communities “may experience unequal impacts from hurricanes, flooding, and extreme heat.”See footnote 15 Neighborhoods at Risk’s data is regularly updated and is an easy way to see what the top vulnerabilities are for any community with data about people and climate exposure. The tool and the integration of both flood risk and social vulnerability data together can enable policymakers, community leaders, and others to make more comprehensive and well-rounded decisions with equity, local context, and people in mind. 

                     

Credit: Neighborhoods at Risk, Headwaters Economics, https://headwaterseconomics.org/apps/neighborhoods-at-risk/ (last visited June 14, 2022). 

Publicly available sources of data like the above examples can be a great aid to policymakers engaging in resilience legal, planning, and policy conversations. This tool can help a community gain a better understanding of what climate and social vulnerabilities exist and should be managed. Based on these vulnerabilities, governments and other decisionmakers can make better investments for future development.

In addition to federal and state resources, policymakers can also keep an eye out for private ones. However, across the board, parishes and municipalities should first learn about the different types of data included in each tool and any potential shortcomings to be able to weave them together in one picture to support comprehensive decisionmaking efforts (e.g., is social equity data available, what types of flooding are included, are residential land use and road network overlays available?). At the start of decisionmaking processes, policymakers should spend time assessing what sources of data exist that align with their priority data needs and can inform legal, planning, and policy decisions. Understanding what kind of data already exists can potentially save time and resources since certain analyses may have already been conducted. When gathering this type of data intel and background, jurisdictions should make sure they can verify the authenticity, quality, and accuracy of the data, which can include using reliable sources and checking the methodology of data collection. 

Where publicly available or existing information does not fit the bill, policymakers may then have to consider investing in new sources.

Assessing Future Data Needs 

For identified priority data needs, decisionmakers may require data that does not already exist or is for some other reason unavailable to them. For example, decisionmakers may assess that they require more holistic data analyses that take both quantitative and qualitative data into account, or current data is not at the scale that is appropriate to support the necessary level of decisionmaking. Regions, parishes, and municipalities can consider collecting their own data to support priority data needs and decisionmaking processes around flooding, drainage, and mitigation. This process will likely include collaborating with other expert entities like universities, consultants, and community-based organizations. Other considerations for assessing future data needs may include determining how data will be collected, analyzed, managed, and updated; where the data will be housed; if the data will be publicly available and if so, how it will be presented to the public. 

Using Data to Build Resilience 

From the outset, decisionmakers should clearly determine how they will use the data in the context of building resilience. To avoid wasting limited time and resources and maximize resilience efforts, parish and municipal governments must be sure that the data collected directly supports their legal and policy decisions around flooding, drainage, and mitigation. For example, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services (CMSWS) is a joint municipal–county stormwater utility that manages and maintains the regulated floodplains within Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, including the City of Charlotte. CMSWS has developed a system for assessing community flood risk through the Mecklenburg County Risk Assessment/Risk Reduction (RARR) Tool for comprehensive mapping, impact analysis, and county-wide floodplain management. This map-based application allows the agency to collect and analyze flood risk data to help identify and reduce flood risk at the parcel level and regionally. RARR is a data-driven framework and set of tools that dynamically assess, evaluate, and ultimately prioritize flood mitigation strategies.  

To help identify the economic value of structures that have been saved from flooding by implementing mitigation strategies, CMSWS also created the Loss Avoided Tool — deemed a “sister tool” of the RARR Tool that runs on the same online platform. CMSWS runs the Loss Avoided Tool after every flood in Mecklenburg County to calculate losses avoided due to mitigation investments that have already been implemented. This tool helps CMSWS predict losses avoided by calculating flooding depth in inches and feet in terms of what structures would have flooded and what the associated monetary cost would have been before the mitigation actions were deployed. 

These results work to bridge the gap between access to the technical data and communicate the successes of the RARR program with policymakers and the local community. Over the last twenty years, CMSWS has invested about $65 million in state, federal, and local funds, and saved about $30 million through avoided losses. This combination of a real-time flood monitoring and risk mitigation tool with a loss avoided component can be replicated by other stormwater or drainage authorities or regional and local governments to demonstrate the fiscal, social, and environmental benefits, among others, of investing public dollars into resilience strategies and data-driven decision-support tools. 

In addition to direct legal and policy support, governments should aim to provide the public with data in ways that are accessible and can allow both policymakers and communities to track and adaptively manage implementation progress, as necessary, For example, the New York City Rezoning Commitments Tracker (Tracker) is an online tool developed by the city that enables local residents to monitor the Big Apple’s steps to implement several neighborhood-level comprehensive plans. The neighborhood plans, referred to generally as “rezonings,” include zoning code changes as well as city commitments to specific capital and programmatic investments. The tool can be used to both inform the city’s internal coordination and project management as well as provide external transparency for community members. The Tracker also helps users understand how zoning changes will manifest in tangible projects, translating the technical information from neighborhood rezoning plans into specific initiatives. In addition, in its 2017 Coastal Master Plan, Louisiana created the Master Plan Data Viewer, which is an interactive tool that allows “residents to view potential flood risk to their community or property over time as well as land loss projections and various socio-economic factors across the coast” and “provides updated information on the implementation of projects.”See footnote 16 Using and maintaining data in this manner is another way to support and implement community-led decisionmaking processes that can in turn increase community capacity and capability to greaux regional and local resilience.


Crosscutting Considerations and Practice Tips

When identifying priority data needs around flooding, drainage, and mitigation options to inform legal, planning, and policy decisions at the regional, parish, and municipal levels, decisionmakers may consider the following practice tips:

  • Develop locally and culturally appropriate and respectful processes to engage communities in data collection
  • Assess what scale of data is appropriate 
  • Dedicate enough time and resources to collect, analyze, manage, and update data
  • 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.

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 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.

  • Develop locally and culturally appropriate and respectful processes to engage communities in data collection: Data collection and analysis must equitably represent BIPOC and low-income communities.See footnote 17 For example, for publicly available data tools, policymakers must ensure that the data does not have gaps, biases, and lack representation.See footnote 18 Policymakers need to apply shared lived experiences of community members as a qualitative form of data to inform legal, planning, policy, and project updates for flooding, drainage, and mitigation solutions. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to engage with communities, but to create effective flood mitigation solutions, planners and policymakers must create meaningful and equitable opportunities for community engagement and data collection. Additionally, decisionmakers must acknowledge people's contributions to data collection processes and should compensate and honor them for their time and knowledge. Refer to Objective 5.1 for more points on equitable community engagement. 
  • Assess what scale of data is appropriate: Scale will be an important consideration for parishes and municipalities pursuing resilience strategies in Region Seven. First, the geographic scale of decisionmaking (e.g., regional, parish, or municipality) is a key factor when identifying priority data needs around flooding, drainage, and mitigation options. Regional and local governments will need data at various geographic scales to support decisions at different scales from the watershed and regional (to support cross-jurisdictional efforts e.g., flooding, population movements) down to the parcel scale (e.g., individual property adaptations) and everything in between. 

    Second, scale will come into play at different decisionmaking phases. For example, the level of detail required at a parish- or city-wide ordinance or planning stage will change when siting and designing an onsite project in a neighborhood. Third, questions around scale will also have a temporal component as flood risk, development, and population change in a jurisdiction over time. Therefore, it is important that governments have data at the relevant geographic, decisionmaking, and temporal scales to best support legal, planning, policy, and project decisions around flooding.

    For example, the Louisiana Housing Corporation created an interactive mapping tool of the state of Louisiana to assist housing advocates, developers, policymakers, and state and federal elected officials “leverage a wide range of data to make more informed decisions related to affordable housing.”See footnote 19 The tool provides data about housing, demographics, environmental and social vulnerability (which includes information about federal disaster declarations for floods, hurricanes and severe storms), and other economic factors.See footnote 20 The information is presented at the district and state level and supports state- and federal-level decisionmaking. Conversely, on a different scale, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services (CMSWS) is a joint municipal–county stormwater utility that manages and maintains the regulated floodplains within Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, including the City of Charlotte. CMSWS has developed a system for assessing community flood risk through the Mecklenburg County Risk Assessment/Risk Reduction (RARR) Tool for comprehensive mapping, impact analysis, and county-wide floodplain management. This map-based application allows the agency to collect and analyze flood risk data to help identify and reduce flood risk at the parcel level and regionally. 

    Assessing the scale of the data will help tailor the information to be more specific and appropriate for the relevant level of decisionmaking and avoid dedicating time and resources to collecting data that is not relevant for the decisionmaking process.
  • Dedicate enough time and resources to collect, analyze, manage, and update data: Given the content presented in this objective, data-related efforts will likely require significant investments in staffing, time, and money, especially where data does not already exist and/or not in a way (e.g., type, scale) that is relevant to a given decisionmaking effort. This will potentially require funding, time, and training current or hiring new staff to undertake relevant tasks like determining priority data needs, assessing if data is accurate and reliable, collecting and analyzing data, creating partnerships, and applying for external sources of funding. These considerations should be factored into the timing and expectations for legal and planning processes relying on this data because they will take longer. For government-created or owned data sets or platforms, additional investments may have to be made in managing, maintaining, and updating these over time.
  • Build public-private-nonprofit-community partnerships: Regional capacity-building and partnership opportunities between government and nongovernmental stakeholders and community members are an important part of creating long-lasting housing and flood risk solutions in communities. A lot of the expertise and resources needed to collect and analyze data to greaux resilience will come from outside government. Interacting with nonprofits (e.g., The Data Center), academic institutions (e.g., Louisiana State University), and community-based organizations (e.g., Healthy Community Services) will be especially important for gathering qualitative data and developing decision-support tools and trackers, like the examples provided above. For more information on building public-private-nonprofit-community partnerships, Objective 5.4 provides more information on regional governance structures and Objective 5.5 addresses partnership opportunities between government and nongovernmental stakeholders and community members. Both of these collaborative efforts are relevant to consider when collecting and analyzing data.

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

 
Louisiana Watershed Initiative

In August 2018, Governor John Bel Edwards launched the Louisiana Watershed Initiative in response to historic flooding events in 2016 that revealed Louisiana's high susceptibility to flooding throughout the state. Louisiana has a devastating history of flooding, with the state experiencing 16 federally declared flood- and hurricane-related disasters in the past 20 years. The Watershed Initiative is a statewide effort to reduce flood risk and increase flood resilience in Louisiana through regional coordination of floodplain management. The program aims to develop capacity at the state, regional, and local levels to respond to flood risk, to increase knowledge of flood risk throughout the state, and to implement projects that increase statewide flood resilience. The ultimate goal of the Watershed Initiative is to reduce flood risk throughout Louisiana by implementing watershed-based flood mitigation initiatives through watershed-bounded entities, known as “Watershed Regions.” The Watershed Initiative is in the process of implementing a statewide modeling effort where Louisiana will undertake a program to develop scientific models of major state watersheds, both coastal and inland, to assess flood risk and opportunities for flood risk reduction in order to support regional floodplain management collaboration based in science and data. This will build on the state’s data and modeling of coastal flooding and land loss through its Coastal Master Plan and support education and outreach to build resilience for both inland and coastal flooding from heavy precipitation events and other causes (like the historic 2016 flooding event that motivated the development of this initiative).

Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas — State of Louisiana: Louisiana Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments (LA SAFE)

Louisiana Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments (LA SAFE) is a community-based planning and capital investment process that will help the state fund and implement several projects, including for managed retreat, to make its coasts more resilient. In 2016, Louisiana’s Office for Community Development–Disaster Recovery Unit (OCD) received a nearly $40 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development through the National Disaster Resilience Competition. With this grant and by leveraging additional state and nongovernmental funds, the state implemented LA SAFE and supported the design and implementation of resilience projects to address impacts in Louisiana’s coastal parishes. In terms of managed retreat, LA SAFE developed a regional approach that addresses the needs of communities facing different physical risks and demographic changes. The LA SAFE framework shows how areas designated using flood risk and data on demographic and economic changes, community engagement, and project selection criteria — each of which are discussed in the following sections — can be used to plan for and develop projects that enhance overall coastal resilience across a broad geography. The process is helping the state make proactive investments in higher ground “receiving areas” to support and manage the ongoing and future transition of people away from vulnerable coastal communities.

FEMA National Risk Index

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)’s National Risk Index (NRI) is a mapping tool that can help communities across the United States understand their current relative risk and resilience related to natural hazards. The NRI identifies the relative vulnerability of all counties and census tracts within the United States to 18 natural hazards. The relative vulnerability is based on detailed data and estimates of expected annual economic losses, social vulnerability, and community resilience. The NRI is intended to be used to help set priorities for resilience efforts by enabling users to quickly assess information on relative risks, social vulnerability, and resilience capacity by county and census tract. FEMA states that the NRI can be used to educate risk managers and the public, and can help inform any updates or development of hazard mitigation plans. Policymakers can also use the NRI to identify where more refined risk assessments or improvements in building standards or codes may be needed. The NRI calculates relative risk as a function of three inputs: (1) Expected Annual Loss (EAL); (2) Social Vulnerability; and (3) Community Resilience. Policymakers can use the NRI to identify where more refined risk assessments or improvements in building standards or codes may be needed.

Neighborhoods at Risk Tool

Neighborhoods at Risk is a free, online data tool that provides users with information about neighborhoods across the U.S. that are facing climate change risks. The tool displays which communities “may experience unequal impacts from hurricanes, flooding, and extreme heat.” Neighborhoods at Risk’s data is regularly updated and is an easy way to see what the top vulnerabilities are for any community with data about people and climate exposure. The tool can enable policymakers, community leaders, and others to make more comprehensive and well-rounded decisions with equity, local context, and people in mind. Neighborhoods at Risk was developed by Headwaters Economics, an independent, nonprofit research group based in Bozeman and Helena, Montana. The tool and the integration of both flood risk and social vulnerability data together can enable policymakers, community leaders, and others to make more comprehensive and well-rounded decisions with equity, local context, and people in mind.

Flood Factor

In June 2020, First Street Foundation released Flood Factor, a free online tool Americans can use to determine their property’s flood risk and understand the ways that flooding is changing due to climate change. Flood Factor presents flood risk data in a user-friendly way by quantifying and communicating flood risk to property owners. The platform indicates that over 25 million properties in the U.S. are at risk of flooding over the next 30 years and First Street Foundation suggests that Flood Factor is a helpful resource for property owners across the country. In particular, Flood Factor can serve as a crucial source of information for property owners, in addition to regional and local policymakers and infrastructure agencies, among other decisionmakers and stakeholders. At a high level, this is largely due to the complexities and differences around federal and state flood disclosure requirements and the need for more climate-forward data. As such, Flood Factor can help inform decisions like where people might choose to live and support future development and adaptation decisions.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — Mecklenburg County, North Carolina: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services, Risk Assessment/Risk Reduction (RARR) Tool

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services (CMSWS) is a joint municipal–county stormwater utility that manages and maintains the regulated floodplains within Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, including the City of Charlotte. CMSWS has developed a system for assessing community flood risk through the Mecklenburg County Risk Assessment/Risk Reduction (RARR) Tool for comprehensive mapping, impact analysis, and county-wide floodplain management. This map-based application allows the agency to collect and analyze flood risk data to help identify and reduce flood risk at the parcel level and regionally. RARR is a data-driven framework and set of tools that dynamically assess, evaluate, and ultimately prioritize flood mitigation strategies.

City of New York, New York: New York City (NYC) Rezoning Commitments Tracker

The New York City Rezoning Commitments Tracker (Tracker) is an online tool that enables city residents to monitor the city’s progress in implementing several neighborhood-level comprehensive plans. The neighborhood plans, referred to generally as “rezonings,” include zoning code changes as well as city commitments to specific capital and programmatic investments. The tool can be used to both inform the city’s internal coordination and project management as well as provide external transparency for community members. The Tracker also serves to help users understand how zoning changes will manifest in tangible projects, translating the technical information from neighborhood rezoning plans into specific initiatives. Other local governments could consider developing and maintaining similar online tools to support and implement community-led decisionmaking processes including for adaptation and resilience.

Broward County, Florida Ordinance 2017-16 and Future Conditions Maps for Infrastructure Design

Pursuant to Broward County Ordinance 2017-16, Broward County, Florida is referring to new groundwater maps that display how sea-level rise and precipitation changes are expected to affect future groundwater levels in reviewing applications for surface water management (i.e., drainage infrastructure) licenses required for certain development projects. Due to the porous limestone geology throughout much of Southeast Florida, saltwater intrusion and increasing groundwater table levels are an increasingly concerning effect of rising sea levels. These impacts are causing more frequent nuisance flooding that causes traffic delays and has potential to damage roads and other infrastructure and facilities. These requirements are intended to help ensure more resilient infrastructure investments in the future that will improve the effectiveness of drainage infrastructure and help mitigate surface flooding under future climate conditions. In June 2021, the Broward County Board of County Commissioners enacted Ordinance No. 2021-33 and adopted Broward County's Future Conditions 100-Year Flood Map 2060. This future conditions map displays the expected future 100-year flood elevations for Broward County and will be used to determine the “future minimum habitable floor elevations for new buildings and major redevelopments and future investments in resilient infrastructure in the County.” For its predictions, the map accounts for: (1) projected sea-level rise; (2) increased precipitation; (3) saturated soil conditions; and (4) land-use changes.

Virginia Beach Sea Level Wise Adaptation Strategy

In 2020, the City of Virginia Beach, Virginia released its Sea Level Wise Adaptation Strategy, which 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. The City consists of four watersheds that are 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. For each watershed, the strategy discusses impacts facing that watershed and priority adaptation projects the city can evaluate based on the impacts identified. 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.

Virginia Beach Sea Level Rise Policy Response Report

In 2019, the City of Virginia Beach, Virginia released its Sea Level Rise Policy Response Report which identifies climate adaptation strategies, objectives, and potential legal and policy actions it could adopt to reduce Virginia Beach’s short- and long-term flood risk. Some goals and action items for the City include incorporating data about sea level rise, precipitation, and recurrent flooding into the city’s comprehensive, hazard mitigation, emergency response, and floodplain management plans, and promote data sharing and collaboration regarding flooding hazards and preparedness strategies between the City and local businesses. The City also updated its Public Works Design Standards Manual to account for climate change impacts in drainage system design requirements that help control stormwater runoff. The Manual provides minimum design standards for all City public works projects within City rights-of-way, easements, and City-owned properties (e.g., roadway, drainage, and traffic signal design standards). The updates implement an action item in the City’s Sea Level Rise Policy Response Report and will help mitigate stormwater-driven flooding under future climate conditions.

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

Austin is the capital city of Texas and updated its watershed management plan in 2016. 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. 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. Here, Austin is leading with data and planning to guide future regulatory changes. 

Austin has also created an online resource that consolidates information on Austin’s plans and programs related to green infrastructure in one location. The webpage functions to educate the public on the city’s green infrastructure initiatives and includes tabs for urban forest, water resources, parks, green streets, and environmental habitats. The city is also enhancing public transparency by publishing green infrastructure indicators online, including performance metrics related to community gardens, park access, stream water quality, permanently preserved land, and tree canopy coverage. In pursuing zoning and growth management, other local and regional policymakers can similarly consider ways to incorporate green spaces into the future of urban or suburban jurisdictions to leverage limited city resources, coordinate across diverse agencies, and build more equitable community resilience.

 

Town of Princeville, North Carolina: Princeville Community Floodprint: Resilience Strategies for Greater Princeville, North Carolina

The Town of Princeville, North Carolina, located in the Tar River coastal floodplain along the U.S. eastern seaboard, has become increasingly vulnerable to extreme flooding. The Princeville Community Floodprint incorporates the results of a vulnerability assessment of flood depth and property elevations across the floodplain district into a land-use analysis that aligns with FEMA-approved land-use strategies. The following categories are FEMA-compliant land-use options for vacant lots that have been bought out for flood mitigation: Outdoor Recreation, Unpaved Parking, Campgrounds, Wetlands Management, Nature Reserve, Grazing, Buffer Zone, and Cultivation (small-scale agriculture). The Floodprint team conducted a parcel-level analysis across Princeville. Of FEMA’s potential land-use options for bought-out properties, the Floodprint team recommends the use of four of these open space strategies to form a land-use composite for the town that best aligns with Princeville’s land ownership and environmental conditions: Outdoor Recreation, Wetlands Management, Nature Reserve, and Cultivation. One of the primary goals of the Floodprint is to propose methods for connecting vacated, underutilized, and/or repetitive flood loss parcels with already established public open spaces, such as parks or greenways. The plan suggests ways the town can maximize the benefits of vacant open space parcels by combining and consolidating clusters of properties where possible; and then connecting them to existing, publicly accessible parks, conservation easements, and city-, county-, and state-owned parcels.

City of Lumberton, North Carolina: Lumberton, North Carolina Community Floodprint

The City of Lumberton is a small community in North Carolina built along the Lumber River. Flooding has become more frequent and severe — requiring new adaptive flood mitigation solutions. The Lumberton Community Floodprint was developed by a team of landscape architects, parks and recreation specialists, and graphic designers from the North Carolina State University College of Design and Coastal Dynamics Design Lab. The goal of this project and resulting guidance or Floodprint was to increase both landscape and community resilience by offering land-use recommendations and design strategies for vacant parcels left behind after catastrophic flooding. While the Floodprint does not propose how to keep water out of Lumberton, it offers holistic land-use strategies that reduce the risk of flooding while improving natural floodplain functions, promoting the development of public amenities for recreation and water storage in areas most acutely affected by floodwaters. These recommendations address open space management and flood hazard mitigation, across spatial and temporal scales — which can support adaptation planning in other flood-prone communities. The Lumberton Community Floodprint development process, vulnerability assessments, strategic recommendations, lessons learned, and steps towards successful project implementation are provided in detail — offering an informative blueprint for other decisionmakers planning flood-resilient communities and landscapes.

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