Leadership & Accountability

Mobilizing the full force of state government to coordinate flood resilience projects, programs, and policies.

To build effective flood resilience at the state level, states must coordinate across state agencies, local governments, regional entities, and nongovernmental partners. This requires an empowered state leader and has permanent staff to establish flood resilience priorities across agencies, data, and budgets.

Because watersheds ignore jurisdictional boundaries and span multiple communities, regional entities can play a key role in state flood resilience. When empowered to manage flood risk at the watershed level, these entities can lessen the burdens on state and local governments and drive effective solutions.

State leadership

There is no one-size-fits-all approach for state leadership on flood resilience. Some states may establish a resilience office, either within the governor’s office or as a separate agency. Others may create a chief resilience officer within an existing department, or assign necessary duties to an existing position, like the head of a water conservation board or emergency management agency. The map below provides a snapshot of flood resilience entities at the state level.

Leadership criteria

As states determine what structure works best for them, certain criteria will help make this position — and the state’s flood resilience — more successful. In general, effective flood resilience requires a senior state leader who has a holistic view of flooding and adaptation, and has the following:

  • Sufficient financial and human resources to oversee or carry out data collection and risk assessment, strategic planning, grant management, technical assistance, and any other activities deemed necessary.
  • Authority to convene and coordinate state agencies and regional entities with flood-related responsibilities.
  • Expertise and influence to drive state resources to reduce flood risk.
  • Responsibility to inform state government priorities based on the state-wide risk assessment(s), risk reduction strategy, and investment framework.
  • A multi-year continuity plan for state flood resilience work.

New Jersey

The New Jersey Office of Climate Resilience is a division under the Department of Environmental Protection that leads the state’s preparation for extreme weather events by maximizing available resources, fostering interagency collaboration, and providing support to communities.

North Dakota

The North Dakota Department of Water Resources is a state-level department dedicated to a range of water issues whose leadership guides the success of robust funding mechanisms and a multi-divisional approach to addressing water challenges.

South Carolina

The South Carolina Office of Resilience is a stand-alone agency under the governor that demonstrates effective leadership through its strategic initiatives, including repairing homes post-disaster, upgrading infrastructure, and aiding communities with resilience projects.

Watershed governance

Watershed-based entities, like watershed districts or regional flood planning groups, are key for activities like large regional-scale flood modeling; stakeholder coordination; project fundraising, financing, and construction; and community engagement and education. When floodwaters come, they follow watershed dynamics, flowing downhill and into rivers, lakes, and streams.

By fostering collaboration, coordination, planning, and funding at the watershed level, states can improve flood resilience in several ways:

  • Equitably pursue flood resilience strategies between upstream and downstream communities.
  • Save money, as watershed-based approaches may support cost sharing; foster coordination; and reduce duplicative projects, studies, and other activities.
  • Improve flood prediction, with updated, localized flood models, monitors, and maps.
  • Increase coordination between communities and federal and state partners.
  • Accelerate the adoption of best practices to more effectively manage and reduce flood risk.

As flood risk intensifies and infrastructure ages, states will increasingly need watershed-level governance to manage and plan for floods. The following recommendations can allow states to effectively manage flood risk at the watershed-scale.

Watershed-based flood entities need statutory authority to effectively collaborate and coordinate across a watershed. State leaders should grant entities authorities to do the following:

  • Engage local, state, and federal partners.
  • Provide technical assistance to local governments.
  • Develop watershed-scale flood risk assessments and models.
  • Lead regional planning and identify project needs.
  • Implement flood resilience initiatives and capital projects.

Additionally, these entities should collectively cover the full state to ensure adequate coordination and flood protection.

Communities should consider flood risk beyond political boundaries by developing watershed-based flood planning and management practices. To effectively carry out a watershed approach to flood resilience, watershed-based entities need funds for staff time, partner and community engagement, data analysis, and policy research.

State leaders should encourage watershed-scale approaches to flood risk planning and management. Such support signals the importance of collaborative and coordinated action and legitimizes new ways of working at the local, regional, and state scale.

By including the whole community in watershed-based flood planning and management, states can build resilient communities that address past injustices and equitably protect upstream and downstream communities.

States in focus

States interested in managing flood risk at the watershed scale have many ways to carry out flood management and planning across jurisdictions.


Texas established 15 regional flood planning groups in 2020 to develop the state’s first regional flood plans, which will culminate in a statewide flood plan.


Minnesota has some of the oldest watershed-based flood resilience entities in the U.S. The districts have strong legal authorities, including the power to assess taxes and issue bonds.


The Louisiana Watershed Initiative established nine provisional watershed regions, bringing together flood-affected communities to collectively make data-informed plans and decisions.

Case studies & best practices

Building resilience from the watershed up

Recommendations for states to better enable and initiate watershed-based collaboration and coordination. The report includes case studies that highlight general authorities, activities, and funding sources for watershed-based entities in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Texas.