New Resource Outlines Nature-Based Solutions for Dealing with Flooding

These options can build resilience in flood-prone locations around the world.

salt marsh view in South Carolina
View of a salt marsh in South Carolina.

Teresa Kopec/Getty Images

Managing flood risk will be increasingly important for a huge number of communities and jurisdictions over the coming years. As extreme weather events become more frequent, and sea levels continue to rise, flooding will be a more common issue in many locations. New international guidelines which outline nature-based solutions for flood risk management are something that could help boost resilience moving forwards. 

"The International Guidelines on Natural and Nature-Based Features for Flood Risk Management" is a new resource designed to provide practitioners and decision-makers with the information they need to manage flood risk using "natural and nature-based features" (shortened with the acronym NNBF), rather than traditional hard infrastructure. This is the first time that a robust resource of this type has been developed that provides value beyond specific nations, mandates, missions, organizations, and communities. 

The project to create these guidelines was initiated and led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) as a part of its Engineering With Nature Initiative. The guidelines are the culmination of a five-year collaboration between USACE, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and many international partners. These international partners include more than 175 international authors and contributors from more than 75 organizations and ten different countries.

They provide end-users with information on using natural and nature-based features to improve coastal resilience, aligning with NOAA’s mission to manage and conserve coastal and marine ecosystems and resources and to maintain healthy and resilient ecosystems. The guidelines can help inform best practice, and also help with the development of innovative solutions for current and future flood risk management. 

Natural and Nature-Based Flood Risk Management Solutions

Natural ecosystems can be utilized to protect against flooding. By using natural infrastructure solutions such as wetlands, dunes, reefs, islands, and mangroves to protect coastal communities, we can sustainably improve community resilience. We can also conserve or restore coastal habitats that support commercially important fish, enhancing marine life and opportunities for aquaculture.

Looking at existing examples from around the world can already show us the strength of natural and nature-based solutions. In the Netherlands, where around 60% of the land surface is prone to flooding, natural engineering solutions have already become the preferred innovative option in many instances. 

As Caroline Douglass, executive director of Flood and Coastal Risk Management, UK Environment Agency, put it, “The environmental, social, and economic co-benefits that these techniques inherently provide remain the same wherever they are used in the world.”

Dr. Richard W. Spinrad of NOAA says that these solutions are useful for more than just the short-term. “The use of NNBF, like marshes, dune systems, oyster reefs, islands, and mangroves, can reduce risks from multiple hazards while providing a broader suite of socioeconomic and environmental benefits. Moreover, the integration of NNBF into our landscapes will achieve many of our future infrastructure needs in a way that is compatible with the natural systems found on our planet.”

What makes these guidelines so useful is that they go beyond those that have come before. “Guidelines on NBS were developed previously ... but these did not yet go to the level of detail needed for project-level analysis and engineering design of natural and nature-based features,” said Sameh Naguib Wahba of the World Bank. The guidelines, he states, “make a crucial contribution to consolidating the growing body of knowledge of the use of specific nature-based features for managing flood risk.”

The NNBF Guidelines are a step forward in advancing twenty-first-century flood risk management, and are a must-read for any organizations, communities, or authorities working with flood-prone areas.