Working on Solutions for Future Floods

Written by Anne Wallach Thomas on . Posted in Learn

The extreme floods across the U.S. this spring have been historic. The effects on local communities and individual lives are devastating.

The New York Times (looking at the impacts of larger snowpacks on flooding out West) and Washington Post (looking at the continued threat of more intense flooding on the Mississippi) both recently took a closer look at our ability to address future extreme floods as we deal with a changing planet.

The core message is clear: the risk for the future is great; and we must find more solutions to reduce this risk and help us cope with its impacts.

In the Post piece, a local official commented on the complex engineering along the Mississippi river, saying, “It’s a good system. Is it a great system? No. We need more options, ultimately. We need more relief valves. This thing is literally being tested to its rim. It’s not a comfortable feeling,” he said, before adding, “Is that the understatement of the year?”

The Nature Conservancy and our partners have experience with the kinds of solutions called for in both these articles. These natural solutions are an essential part of the improvements needed to protect people from future floods.

For example, we look at ways to improve the health of forests, which in turn helps to prevent run-off and sedimentation upstream of rivers. That reduction in run-off and sedimentation upstream acts to lessen or prevent significant impacts downstream to people and their communities.

We also look at natural solutions that provide just the kind of additional relief valves (like the ones called for by the local official quoted in the Post article) that are needed downstream to maintain the safety and wellbeing of communities in the future.

For example, the Conservancy is working with partners to reconnect floodplain forest back to Louisiana’s Ouachita River, which is located within the Mississippi River Basin. Believed to be the largest floodplain reconnection project in the Mississippi River Basin and one of the largest in the entire United States, the project will help alleviate flooding of communities downstream, improve water quality and restore valuable fish and wildlife habitat. As part of the project, we are removing portions of a 17-mile-long, 30-foot-tall levee that was built more than 30 years ago. This will allow us to reconnect the 25 square miles of forest back to the river.

Please check out a great post last Friday over on the Cool Green Science blog for a more in-depth look at how natural solutions work to reduce the risk of floods.

And for anyone looking to learn more about our tools and approaches for adapting to this changing planet, check out our information depot on these and other solutions over at NaturePeopleFuture.org.

Anne Wallach Thomas works with Nature Conservancy staff and partners around the world to collect knowledge and information about natural solutions designed and implemented to reduce the vulnerability of the world’s people to our changing planet.

Photo by: Flickr user tobo (Flood in Old Mandeville, LA, 2008)

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Planet Change is a Nature Conservancy blog site designed to share stories about actions the Conservancy and others around the world are taking to fight carbon pollution and the impacts of climate change, and to help people feel the connections between climate change and their daily lives and understand actions they can take.

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