Building Resiliency

Communities all over are adopting nature-based solutions to reduce flood risk — and it's working.

In the summer of 2016, the worst natural disaster to hit the United States since Hurricane Sandy was wreaking havoc on Louisiana.

A 100-year rain occurred in just two days. The flooding was catastrophic. 6,900,000,000,000—that’s 6.9 trillion—gallons of water fell across Louisiana in just one week. 60,000 homes were swallowed.

The natural environment—what is left of it—couldn’t keep up with the deluge. As The Times-Picayune wrote, “Every new road, bridge, levee or other human-made structure further obstructs and slows the natural drainage patterns within the Amite River Basin, where the Amite and Comite rivers flow into Lake Pontchartrain.”

As man-made structures replace nature, there is less nature to absorb water when flooding occurs. The Nature Conservancy is a key partner behind a new effort to promote the use of nature-based solutions to help reduce the risk of floods. By investing in nature, other benefits for communities, like improved water quality and enhanced recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat, also result.

Naturally Resilient Communities highlights nature-based solutions that communities can employ to reduce flooding and realize other benefits.
This partnership features a suite of case studies that showcase real, on-the-ground success stories. Read on to learn more about the power of nature to reduce flood risk.

New Jersey: Dunes Provide Storm Defense

In December 1992, a Nor’easter caused significant flooding and erosion along much of the New Jersey coast, including South Seaside Park, in part because naturally occurring dunes there had been removed years before to improve ocean views and beach access.

After the '92 storm, the community used “snow fencing” to help rebuild the dunes and then stabilized them by planting dune grasses. By the time Superstorm Sandy hit in 2012, the dunes were 25 feet high and 150 feet wide, and the dunes—rather than homes, businesses, and infrastructure—took the brunt of the storm.

Nashville’s 'Front Porch' Re-uses Rainwater

In May 2010, a storm unleashed nearly 14 inches of rain in two days in Nashville, killing 11 people and causing more than $2 billion in property damages. After that storm, aggressive measures to prevent similar damages in the future included property buyouts in flood-prone areas and improved pumping stations. But actions also included a new multi-use park that includes a variety of nature-based flood protection measures.

Nashville’s Riverfront Park incorporates "green infrastructure” measures for flood control, such as a “green-roofed” pavilion and systems that capture rainwater in a 375,000-gallon cistern used for park irrigation. The park, billed as Nashville’s “front porch,” booked 27 shows during its inaugural season in 2015.

 

Santa Fe: River Restoration Offers Protection

Because of decades of development and the tapping of ground water, the Sante Fe River, which once supported trout, had become an extremely degraded stream—really nothing more than a flood ditch, and a poor one at that, as it regularly posed safety hazards for residents and threatened property during storms.

The city of Sante Fe recently revitalized a 1.5-mile section of the river to reduce flooding. In doing so, they created walking trails in “buffer areas” along the stream with native plants that now attract tourists and wildlife alike. “Boulder drops” (above) have also helped stabilize the stream’s banks.

Ohio: Flood Control Measures Have Curb Appeal

After suffering through two 500-year storm events in 2003 and 2004, the City of Cuyahoga Falls developed a plan to reduce flooding in a neighborhood that experienced chronic flooding. Using FEMA flood buyout funds, the city acquired four flood-damaged properties and demolished the houses to create a 24,000-square-foot rain garden reserve that now creates an additional five acres of storage for runoff. The reserve also enhances outdoor recreational opportunities for the community.

The results speak for themselves: A storm in May 2014 dumped four inches of rain within 45 minutes, resulting in widespread damages across the city; however, there was no reported damage in the neighborhood surrounding the rain garden.

Living Breakwaters Provide Habitat

Living breakwaters are offshore structures designed to limit wave energy by creating a barrier, most often underwater, between open water and the shoreline. While traditional breakwaters may be made from stone, concrete, or other building materials, a living breakwater is a breakwater that is intentionally designed to incorporate natural habitat while still providing protection to the coastline. Oyster reefs make great living breakwaters, and nearly 20,000 volunteers have worked with The Nature Conservancy to restore them over the past several years - in places like New Jersey and Virginia.

Rain Gardens Reduce Run-off

Rain gardens are planted basins that increase infiltration of water into the ground, which helps improve water quality by removing pollutants from run-off. They also reduce the volume of water that enters storm water management systems. Rain gardens appear similar to a “regular” garden, however, they are typically bowl- or saucer-shaped and specifically designed to collect runoff and hold it for up to a day or two as the water infiltrates into the surrounding soil.

Go Deeper

Explore more case studies and nature-based solutions on the Naturally Resilient Communities website.

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