Which would cost American taxpayers more: Paying now to protect undeveloped areas that are likely to flood in the coming decades, or allowing development to proceed based on current projections and paying for subsequent flood damages when they inevitably occur?
A new study set out to answer that question by comparing floodplain protection today to predicted flood losses. Its authors say they found that every $1 invested to protect floodplains saves at least $5 in potential future flood damages.
The study — A benefit–cost analysis of floodplain land acquisition for U.S. flood damage reduction—was conducted by The Nature Conservancy, the University of Bristol (United Kingdom) and flood analytics company Fathom.
Published in Nature Sustainability on Dec. 9, the study identifies more than 104,000 square miles—an area roughly the size of Colorado—in “100-year” floodplains where conservation would be an economically sound way to avoid future flood damages.
“For just over 21,000 square miles of this area, the benefits are at least five times the cost, meaning that a dollar invested in floodplain protection today returns least $5 in savings from avoided flood damages in the future,” said Kris Johnson, who is The nature Conservancy’s deputy director of agriculture for North America and who co-authored the paper. “Not only would investing now to conserve undeveloped lands in floodplains likely save tens of billions of dollars in avoided flood damages, but protecting these lands would also provide a host of additional benefits for habitat, wildlife, water quality and recreation, further strengthening the economic rationale for floodplain conservation.”
While the conservation of undeveloped, flood-prone areas would be broadly effective across the nation, it is likely to be particularly beneficial in the Southwest, the eastern Great Lakes, the Appalachians, and areas where population growth is anticipated in areas at risk of flooding, added Oliver Wing, a flood risk scientist and researcher at the University of Bristol and a co-author.
Flooding is among the most common of natural disasters, and it is the costliest, with average flood losses in the U.S increasing steadily to nearly $10 billion annually. The taxpayer-subsidized National Flood Insurance Program is in record debt at nearly $25 billion.
The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving lands and waters. It working in 79 countries and territories.
Fathom was formed out of the University of Bristol Hydrology Research Group, which has a focus on flood risk modeling. The company works with (re)insurers, international development agencies, conservation agencies, emergency responders and multi-national corporations on a global basis.
Sources: The Nature Conservancy and Fathom
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