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Rethinking Flood Protection in Counties through New Partnership

The National Association of Counties (NACo) is proud to announce its partnership with The Nature Conservancy in a new collaborative effort aimed to help counties across the country better prepare for and respond to coastal storm surges or river flooding.  

Throughout the past 11 years, American communities have had ample reminders of nature’s unpredictable fury.  Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Wilma, Ike, Irene, Isaac, and Sandy caused over 2,200 deaths and some $230 billion in damages.  In 2011, we saw a flood on the Mississippi River that surpassed record flood elevations set in the “Great Flood of 1927”.  More recently, in fact, people in Missouri and Illinois are still struggling to recover from floodwaters that killed at least 20 people in December.  Additionally, in January a winter storm virtually shut down much of the East Coast and caused major coastal flooding while claiming more than 30 lives.

Extreme weather events have become the unfortunate norm for counties across the nation.  Since 2010, counties housing 96 percent of the total U.S. population were affected by federally declared weather-related disasters.  Meanwhile, average flood losses in the U.S. have increased steadily to nearly $10 billion annually. As a result, the National Flood Insurance Program is $24 billion in debt. 

It’s clear that traditional approaches for mitigating risks from storms are proving not to be enough.  Often overlooked is the role that nature itself can play alongside traditional, manmade structures—like seawalls, dams and levees.  For instance, when rivers have more room during floods, floodwaters can disperse and slow rather than rise, rage and threaten communities.  Along our coasts as well, natural features like sand dunes and marshes can help reduce wave heights and absorb storm surges.  Restoring and strengthening natural systems not only helps counties become more resilient by mitigating risks from extreme weather, but it also brings additional economic, health, and social benefits.  

Thus, this new partnership has begun working to show how communities can best use nature to reduce risk from storms and floods and improve their overall quality of life.   Through this project, a practical, science-based ‘siting guide’ is being developed to help county leaders understand how and where nature-based solutions are most likely to help mitigate the risks of floods.  Accordingly, NACo will also be working to identify and promote the efforts of counties that are already reaping the benefits of using nature-based solutions in this way. 

The American Planning Association,  the Association of State Floodplain Managers, and Sasaki Associates are also partnering on this project. 

To submit any recommendations for current county best practices in natural and green instrastructure or for more information, please contact NACo Program Manager Jack Morgan.  

UPDATE: This project was recently recognized by the Obama administration at the White House Water Summit. Read more here.

About Jack Morgan (Full Bio)

Program Manager for Community and Economic Development

Jack Morgan works as a Program Manager for Community and Economic Development in NACo's Community, Economic and Workforce Development practice area. He handles community and economic development, resilience and transportation grants and programs.