People stranded on rooftops. Floodwaters covering the interstate. Thousands without power, displaced from their homes.
Sound like the scene from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina?
Right now, it’s the reality for many communities in the Pacific Northwest. The region was recently hit by a major rain storm, which triggered massive flooding on rivers in Oregon and Washington.
These floods are the latest wake-up call, showing us why we need to rethink our country’s flood protection strategies.
In many cases our old approaches – levees, dams and flood walls – have exacerbated the very problems they were meant to fix. Despite spending more than $25 billion on federal levees and dams, national flood losses continue to rise.
Traditional levees constrict a river’s flow, making the river’s floodwaters higher and more powerful as they rush downstream. While levees might protect one community, they also can put a downstream community at even greater risk.
The Association of State Floodplain Managers agrees that levees need to be the last line of defense, not the first.
It’s time to embrace cost-effective natural flood protection solutions. Not only can these solutions help protect communities, they also help provide clean water and safeguard fish and wildlife.
Here are 3 natural flood protection tips for safeguarding communities:
1. Protect wetlands, forests and streamside vegetation --- Wetlands and natural vegetation help absorb floodwaters and can serve as barriers between floodwaters and homes. Wetlands also help filter pollution and give us clean water.
2. Manage stormwater naturally --- Run-off from roads should be allowed to seep back into the ground, so it doesn’t overwhelm drains and sewers. Not only can this help reduce local flooding, it also recharges underground aquifers.
3. Stop building in floodplains --- Keep new development out of floodplains and, where possible, move existing homes out of harm’s way. Parks and natural areas enhance community access to river recreation, and provide habitat for birds, fish and wildlife.
These three steps not only provide flood protection, they also deliver many of other benefits – clean water, recreation, wildlife and quality-of-life – that our communities enjoy.
Embracing natural flood protection will strengthen the resiliency of our communities in the face of global warming, and will allow us to pass on a legacy of healthy rivers to the next generation.