Nature may hold the solution to future flooding

There has been a growing interest in nature-based solutions for flood risk management. These solutions can address the challenges associated with flooding, while also reducing the overall impact of flooding on human health and wellbeing. Investing in urban green spaces is one example. Other examples include using trees and wetlands to hold back water during storms and restoring oyster reefs. The combination of water management and public space can help to improve people's health, support municipal budgets, and reduce carbon emissions.

During a flood, stormwater that does not get absorbed can cause severe damage to buildings and natural ecosystems. It can also pollute drinking water and harm wildlife. Moreover, the impact of an extreme flood event on the economy is significant. As such, it is imperative that we address the problem of future floods in a comprehensive and integrated way. To achieve this, we need to incorporate a wide variety of approaches, including a combination of flood protection infrastructure, risk financing schemes, and nature-based interventions. This article outlines some of these approaches and discusses how they can work together to reduce the risks of future flooding.

As climate change causes more frequent and intense rainfall, the potential for flooding increases. This is especially true for countries in the Global South. As the population of these nations increases, their vulnerability to floods increases. As cities grow and develop, more non-permeable surfaces are formed, which further increase flood risks. In the future, floods are expected to be more common and more expensive. In addition, sea levels are projected to continue rising, resulting in a heightened flood threat. These impacts are particularly acute for the poor, who tend to live in vulnerable areas.

To protect society, governments are developing innovative adaptation infrastructure strategies. These solutions will reduce emissions, create economic opportunities, and boost biodiversity. They can also enhance the resilience of communities to future floods. As with any mitigation strategy, the mix of measures implemented is dependent on the risk and funding of a specific community. Depending on the risk level, the right mix of interventions may be structural and nature-based. For instance, the US Fish and Wildlife Service Coastal Program is working on a number of projects, including living shorelines in Florida and restoring wetlands in Texas.

The Conservation Fund's Greenseams program has protected over 3,600 acres of natural landscapes in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as well as several watersheds in nearby counties. It has also removed a Pond Lily dam, which was blocking an important stream flow. By removing the dam, the natural stream flow returned. The project has also restored wetlands and planted trees to slow overland flows.

While nature-based solutions can help to reduce the risks of future floods, they are not a substitute for traditional engineering measures. They can be incorporated into the standard cost-benefit analysis of protective infrastructure. This helps to mainstream their use, as it expresses risk mitigation in terms of human benefits and economic advantages. This approach, though, primarily relies on a relatively small amount of data.

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