Flood planning is the process of developing visions, strategies, and tactics to reduce flooding and its impacts. Planning should be driven by flood-prone communities and involve local leaders familiar with their communities’ needs to build resilience for those who need it most. The most effective plans rely on best available scientific assessments of current and future risk, and encourage projects, programs, and policies that lead to lasting, meaningful change in a community.
States across the country are experiencing increased flooding from more frequent and extreme weather conditions and events. Holistic flood planning helps states put their resources where they’ll be most impactful. Planning provides an actionable, statewide strategy to drive investments and policy across sectors and levels of government. Holistic, comprehensive plans should emphasize vulnerable communities who are disproportionately impacted in flood events, and include tools and metrics that help states carry out the plans and monitor their progress.
The State Resilience Partnership, convened by the American Flood Coalition and The Pew Charitable Trusts, commissioned the Urban Institute to conduct first-of-its-kind research on statewide resilience and adaptation planning. The resulting report, State Flood Resilience and Adaptation Planning: Challenges and Opportunities, examines the landscape and trends of statewide resilience plans based on the Urban Institute’s survey of 148 plans and deep dive interviews in five states.
The report finds that most states lack a deliberate or comprehensive approach to address flood hazards. States often rely on FEMA-approved State Hazard Mitigation Plans (SHMP) for statewide flood risk assessment and mitigation activities; however, SHMPs are not robust tools for strategic planning.
Major state flood planning efforts have historically occurred in response to disasters, rather than on a regular basis that uses forward-looking data. Additionally, state flood planning often relies on federal funds, which may not cover all long-term costs associated with flooding. Lastly, the report finds that most states do not have meaningful public engagement and targeted assistance for low-resourced communities, resulting in inequitable outcomes.
The full report can be read on the Urban Institute website.
States play an essential role as key implementers of flood mitigation activities. State governments are the important links between federal agencies and local governments, coordinating post-disaster response and deciding how to spend mitigation dollars. Additionally, states are well positioned to organize watershed-level approaches to flood planning — a useful scale to assess priorities given that floods ignore jurisdictional boundaries.
Flood planning is largely underdeveloped at the state level. Most states have not developed a comprehensive and inclusive approach to flood planning, often relying on FEMA-approved State Hazard Mitigation Plans instead. As states become more aware of the risks posed by more frequent and extreme weather events, many have shown interest in more innovative approaches to state flood planning.1
Colorado is one of the few states with a stand-alone flood mitigation plan. This plan works alongside the Enhanced State Hazard Mitigation Plan and Colorado Resiliency Framework to address flooding in the state; however, municipalities lead most local flood planning and control key mitigation tools, which shapes how the state can carry out flood resilience policies and programs.
Historically, Florida’s flood planning has been decentralized, happening mostly through water management districts and other regional entities. Newly bolstered state leadership can learn from proactive actors, like the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD); provide a shared statewide vision and source of data; and provide assistance to communities that need greater support.
Iowa has adopted advanced risk assessment practices and holistic community engagement through the Iowa Watershed Approach, which is led by the Iowa Flood Center. Under the Iowa Watershed Approach, the Flood Center monitors riverine flooding across the state and provides flood alerts and forecasts to communities. In concert, the Iowa Flood Mitigation Board provides funds to localities submitting proposals for flood mitigation projects.
North Carolina has recently taken steps to create a comprehensive flood planning process. After Hurricane Matthew, the state directed funds to areas that saw extensive destruction and established the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency, which administers Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery funds and runs programs to build local capacity for resilience. Renewed state-level leadership in the legislature and Governor’s office, like dedicating $20 million to develop a Flood Resiliency Blueprint, indicates a greater focus on holistic flood planning in the state.
Washington relies on its Enhanced State Hazard Mitigation Plan to bring together disparate plans, responsible parties, and flood programs — like the state’s Flood Control Assistance Account Program and the Floodplains by Design program — into a comprehensive plan. These programs are central to the state’s flood mitigation strategy, working together to fund flood planning and local implementation.
(1) This page summarizes themes in flood planning, including those from the Urban Institute’s report, State Flood Resilience and Adaptation Planning: Challenges and Opportunities. For the perspectives of the Urban Institute, please refer directly to the report itself