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Overview

Solutions Can Protect Coastal Communities

Flooding due to sea level rise is a big challenge, but there are solutions to keep coastal communities safe. Individuals, mayors, governors, and Congress can work together to build protections before flooding, build back stronger after flooding, and create plans that future-proof communities.

Individual
Individual

Individuals can take steps to protect their homes and property from flood damage and urge local officials to take action to keep their communities safe.

Local
Local

Local officials can prioritize sea level rise and take action locally to protect the community, as well as coordinate with state and federal officials for practical solutions.

State & Federal
State & Federal

State and federal officials must help fund practical community solutions and incentivize smart planning in state and federal programs.

There are four actions that guide solutions

1

Proactive Protection

It’s important to protect coastal communities before major flooding damage happens, and not wait for a disaster to strike. This is also cheaper – every $1 spent on disaster mitigation saves $6 in disaster relief.1

2

Building Back Stronger

After flooding and natural disasters, communities need to be rebuilt stronger and more resilient so that they don’t face the same problem again and again.

3

Future-Proofing Communities

Setting more forward-thinking building codes, evaluating coastal development and planning infrastructure that can withstand higher seas can all help prepare communities for the future.

4

Conservative Planning

Taking a hard look at the risks of sea level rise and flooding and can help communities make realistic financial plans—just like how businesses hedge against risk.

Individual Solutions

What Can Individuals Do to Protect Their Homes?

Individuals can take action to protect against sea level rise flooding including researching and understanding their flood risk, insuring against that risk, and making changes to protect their home.

While these steps are effective, they can also be expensive and time-consuming. Permanent solutions also require action at the local, state and federal levels to keep flood water out of streets and homes. Individuals can play an important role to inform the local officials of the risks they face from flooding, and support local actions that protect the community and lower flood insurance premiums.

Understanding flood risks

Free

The first and most important step in protecting a home is knowing what the property’s flood risk is. Even if a home is not at risk for flooding directly, flooding on nearby streets can impact the community and local residents’ ability to get to important infrastructure, like schools and hospitals. Individuals can search their address at FloodiQ.com to find their property or city’s flood risk.

Buying flood insurance

Premiums depend on each home’s specific risk, with an average premium costing $700 per year2

Since typical homeowners insurance does not cover damage from flooding, and the average cost of flood damage is $40,000, it makes buying flood insurance a smart bet for many homeowners—even those who live outside of FEMA’s designated flood zones. Flood insurance premiums can be reduced when the community takes action to decrease its overall risk and when individuals take steps to make their homes safer. Click here to read our detailed guide to understanding flood insurance.

Raising the expensive stuff

$6,000 or more to elevate HVAC systems, plumbing, and electric meters3

Homeowners experiencing repeated flooding can raise HVAC systems, plumbing, and electric meters currently on their basement or ground level to above flood levels. This can prevent future damage to expensive systems and could reduce flood insurance premiums as well.

Elevating houses

$130,000 (median price)3

Houses can be raised above flood levels by using six-foot tall wooden stilts or concrete blocks. Even if a house doesn’t flood, the driveway and the roads around it still may. It is easier for a new home to be built higher, but existing homes can also be raised. Often, rebuilding happens when FEMA grants money after a disaster like Hurricane Harvey. These grants can often cover the majority of the cost for rebuilding.

Relocating

Costs will vary

For houses that are in areas of extreme flooding, one option is to relocate to higher ground. To relocate, a house is lifted off its foundation, hauled to a new site, and lowered onto a new foundation.

Local Solutions

What Can Cities Do to Protect Against Flooding?

Local officials can make a big difference simply by communicating the risks of flooding to their constituents. It’s also important for local officials to create a basic plan to protect critical infrastructure. With bold leadership and smart planning, communities can limit the damage from flooding and protect their schools, hospitals, roads, and local economy.

Local action can also lower the cost of homeowners’ flood insurance premiums, helping them save hundreds of dollars each year. While local communities are the first line of defense, they need support from the state and federal level to be successful.

Solutions take time to fund and implement, but can protect cities

Across the country, communities are coming together to combat sea level rise and finding innovative and resourceful solutions. However, what works for one city may not work for another. Choosing the right solution will depend on factors like local climate, resources (both natural and economic), and laws.

Because solutions take time to plan and execute, it’s important for cities and residents to be proactive. Knowing the issues sea level rise and flooding may pose today and 10–30 years from now will give coastal communities the time to prepare and find solutions that protect property, economy, and quality of life.

Building seawalls

New York City is building a $335 million flood wall in Manhattan4

Seawalls are built on the coast to decrease flooding from tides and storms. They are often built to a height of five to six feet above sea level. To reduce flooding, old seawalls will need to be repaired and raised higher as the seas rise. Raising seawalls by 12 inches costs about $60 per foot. New seawalls often cost $600 to $2,000 per linear foot5

Raising roads

Miami Beach is raising its roads by two feet at a cost of roughly $2 million per block6

Raising roads above sea level can help drain water and reduce tidal flooding. In order to make sure that higher roads don’t channel flood waters to homes and stores at lower elevations, cities often use stormwater pumps to remove this excess water.

Building stormwater pumps

Norfolk needs $70 million for pumps and drains by Ohio Creek7

With higher seas, water doesn’t drain out as easily. Pumps can speed up the process of getting water off the streets by vacuuming up the flood water and releasing it back into the sea.

Upgrading sewage systems

Florida’s Broward County has spent over $250 million to eliminate septic tanks8

Flooding can disrupt sewage systems and in particular, threaten septic tanks. Since saltwater is corrosive, it can break tanks and cause sewage to spew out, creating a smelly problem as well as a health hazard. Towns can upgrade sewage systems so that storm water doesn’t seep into pipes, upgrade septic tanks, or replace them with sewer lines for about $15,000 per replacement.

Using beaches as barriers

Norfolk recently spent $34.5 million to engineer a beach at Ocean View to reduce flooding9

Beaches and dunes can act like a natural wall that reduces the impact of storm surges. The bigger the beach, the more water it stops from reaching homes and roads. Towns can add sand to make beaches bigger or to protect them against erosion. Using this type of natural infrastructure can protect against flooding while maintaining beaches for the community to enjoy.

Creating natural infrastructure

Palm Beach County is spending $17 million to create mangroves, oyster reefs, marsh and seagrass habitats on 70 acres of land10

Coastal communities can restore and build up natural infrastructure that can act as a buffer against storms and coastal flooding. Natural structures such as barrier islands, oyster and coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass, and salt marshes can work in unison with built infrastructure, such as seawalls, to absorb storm surges.11 These projects are often cost-effective and can improve the natural environment for the community.

Slowing land sinkage

Hampton Roads Sewage District has planned a $55 million pilot project to inject water underground to slow land sinkage12

In places like Hampton Roads, the land is sinking in part because so much groundwater has been pumped out that the land is caving in to fill the empty space. Towns can slow down land sinkage by limiting further groundwater pumping and initiating pilot projects to reverse land sinkage. In Hampton Roads, a pilot project called SWIFT will begin experimenting with injecting a million gallons of purified wastewater in the ground per day, starting in 2018.

Managed retreat

Isle de Jean Charles has a resettlement project underway, which will cost $48 million and relocate 36 households13

In some coastal areas, shorelines are being lost to storms, sea level rise, erosion, and subsidence. Though communities are implementing many of the solutions available to mitigate this, some are considering relocation. This option may not be the best fit for all coastal communities facing extreme cases of sea level rise, but for some, it is the best solution to keep residents safe.

State & Federal Solutions

Why Is State and Federal Action Necessary?

Sea level rise flooding is already impacting America’s national security, its economy, and citizens up and down the coast. This national challenge must be met with national solutions. State and national action is critical to give coastal communities the tools they need to protect themselves and the military bases, ports, and highways that support the rest of the country.

How state officials can tackle sea level rise and flooding

Increasing funds for local infrastructure

Building infrastructure to reduce flooding saves money and protects citizens, but most towns can’t afford to pay for it on their own. It’s essential for the federal government to help local communities pay for protections against flooding today, rather than waiting for disasters to strike that cost taxpayers billions of dollars.

Federal and state governments can also get more from the money they are already spending by incentivizing smart planning. They can require projects that receive funding to protect against flooding and provide more funding to help them do so.

Protecting military bases

It’s important for the national government to understand the risks to major military bases and fund the projects necessary to protect them from flooding. Sixteen military bases on the East Coast will have flooding 100 times per year by 2050.14 This puts military readiness and equipment at risk.

Even when military bases take action to remain dry, flooded roads can keep service people from being able to reach the base to deploy. While some bases, like Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, are already taking action to protect against sea level rise, coordinated national action is needed to ensure all military bases are prepared.

Hardwiring flood prevention into federal programs

The government already spends billions of dollars on disaster relief, affordable housing, and other programs that impact communities’ flood risk. With those same dollars, the government could protect communities from flooding and reduce spending for disaster relief. Proactive protection pays off—for every $1 spent on pre-disaster mitigation, $6 is saved in disaster relief.1

While the Department of Housing and Urban Development finances housing in every coastal state, these dollars could go further if states and developers were required to consider the risk of flooding in their plans. When rebuilding after disasters, infrastructure needs to build back stronger so communities can withstand future flooding.

Giving local communities the tools to plan smart

Many coastal communities are already taking action to combat flooding from sea level rise, but they need tools for better planning. Local communities rely on federal FEMA flood maps to understand their flooding risk and take action. Currently, around 15% of these maps have not been updated since the 1970s or 1980s, and none of the maps include sea level rise.

The federal government needs to update these maps to give local communities accurate data. Without accurate maps, it’s like asking local communities to fight sea level rise flooding with one hand tied behind their back. State and federal governments can also play an important role in understanding the country’s overall risk and coordinating efforts between communities.