USING NATURE TO ADDRESS FLOODING
We’ve created this guide of nature-based solutions and included case studies of successful projects from across the country to help communities learn more and identify which nature-based solutions might work for them.
WHAT ARE NATURE-BASED SOLUTIONS?
Nature offers a powerful set of tools for addressing hazards like flooding and erosion. Nature-based solutions use natural systems, mimic natural processes, or work in tandem with traditional approaches to address these specific hazards. Communities across the country— along rivers or coasts, large or small, rural or urban— can incorporate nature-based solutions in local planning, zoning, regulations, and built projects to help reduce their exposure to flood and erosion impacts.
WHY NATURE-BASED SOLUTIONS?
Ninety-six percent of the total U.S. population lives in counties where federally-declared, weather-related disasters have occurred since 2010. Smart nature-based solutions provide multiple benefits, giving communities high returns on their investments in flood risk reduction strategies.
HealthierEnvironmentsNatural systems and nature-based solutions can reduce flood risks, while improving water quality and enhancing wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities.
Ecological Benefits of Nature-Based Solutions
Communities have choices in how they prepare for and respond to floods. Often overlooked is the role that nature and nature-based solutions can play alongside seawalls or dams and levees. For instance, we are safer when rivers have more room during floods and floodwaters can disperse and slow down rather than rise, rage and threaten communities. Along our coasts, natural features like sand dunes and marshes or coral reefs and oyster reefs reduce wave heights, absorb storm surges and help stop erosion.
But the true return on investment for nature-based solutions is realized when the other, multiple benefits they provide are considered. For example, wetlands, floodplains, forests, prairies and marshes improve water quality by filtering pollutants and sediment from water. Improved water quality can boost tourism and recreation or reduce costs at water treatment facilities. Even smaller-scale projects, like rain gardens or green roofs, can help reduce the impacts of local flooding events while also providing benefits like improved community appeal and habitat for birds and butterflies or pollinating bees.
Traditional structures designed to control floodwaters or storm surges are usually built on beaches, marshes or wetlands, where they destroy valuable wildlife habitat. On the other hand, natural areas and nature-based solutions provide, create or improve wildlife habitat for fish, birds and other species, which enhances recreational opportunities for community members and tourists alike.
HealthierCommunitiesNatural areas and nature-based solutions can promote physical and mental health, clean air and water, and help cool our cities.
Public Health Benefits of Nature-Based Solutions
The trees and vegetation in natural areas and green spaces improve water quality and air quality, particularly in larger cities, which has been connected to lower rates of asthma and wheezing in urban populations. Beyond these more obvious benefits, a growing body of scientific evidence suggests contact with nature provides a multitude of health benefits. Close proximity to natural areas provides a positive emotional experience that has been shown to speed up recovery time for hospitalized patients, motivate healthy behaviors like exercise, and improve or sustain mental health. The percentage of green space within a two-mile radius of a person’s home has been associated with the percentage of residents reporting good health, particularly among homemakers, the elderly, and those with lower socioeconomic status—groups that are typically less likely to get sufficient physical activity. One study found that residents living in areas with more green space were more than three times as likely to be physically active, and approximately 40% less likely to be overweight or obese, compared to those living in areas with less green space. And green streetscapes encourage active modes of transport, such as walking or cycling.
Also important, tree canopies and urban green spaces have shown a significant cooling effect in cities, which reduces energy demands for air conditioning and lowers local emissions.
StrongerEconomiesEconomic benefits range from reduced flood damage costs (due to better flood protection) to lower water treatment costs to healthier fisheries, better recreational opportunities, and increased tourism and economic development.
Economic Benefits of Nature-Based Solutions
In addition to their ability to help reduce damages from flooding and coastal storm surges - studies have found that for every $1 spent on flood mitigation efforts, $5 is saved - natural areas and nature-based solutions provide a wide-range of other benefits that can positively impact local economies.
Over 30 studies analyzing residential property values support the idea that those located near natural or green spaces are more valuable and generate more tax revenues—with property values up to 20% higher. To put these findings into a city-wide economic context, the study found the increased property values associated with a single greenbelt in Austin, Texas amounted to approximately $13.64 million in additional property tax revenue in just two neighborhoods.
In 2012, the total economic value of U.S. commercial and recreational fisheries was estimated at over $90 billion annually, with more than 1.7 million jobs related to the fisheries industry. The vast majority of commercial and recreational fisheries rely on species that use floodplains and wetlands for some stage of their life cycle development.
Beach-based tourism in the U.S. is estimated to generate more than $300 billion in economic activity annually. Also, in a series of studies about trees in business districts around the U.S. found shoppers were willing to spend more in areas with higher quality tree canopies or a more natural feel.
“The decisions we make today about the infrastructure we put in place – whether natural or manmade – will have a long-lasting impact on how we live and work. We should let nature do its very best job for us.”
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez
“The whole concept is to let the river do what it naturally wants to do—flood, move around—with nobody getting hurt and no money being spent to try and fight it.”
Hans Hunger, Capital Improvement Program Manager, Pierce County, WA
“Project GreenShores [has] provided our community with protection from hurricanes and tropical storms… improved water quality in Pensacola Bay and become a part of our local economy.”
Grover Robinson, County Commissioner, Escambia County, FL
“Instead of turning to a bulkhead, we’ll be installing a living shoreline to stabilize the area, protect the houses, and … create habitat that can be enjoyed by wildlife, birders, and kayakers too.”
Chris Ridings, Administrator, Borough of West Wildwood, NJ
“There is a recognition that the project will save property, it’ll save homes, it’ll save businesses. It also provides for a much better habitat for salmon, provides for some areas of recreation for the folks nearby.”
Congressman Dave Reichert, Washington’s 8th Congressional District
EXPLORE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF NATURE-BASED SOLUTIONS
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