Design for Flooding
by Donald Watson and Michele Adams
Floods are the most frequent natural disaster in the United States. One in three federal disaster declarations is related to flooding, many as a result of hurricanes affecting heavily populated U.S. coastlines.
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Flooding is not new. Some flooding is part of the natural hydrologic cycle and the sustenance it brings to life on Earth.
Flooding is natural. It becomes a disaster because of the way we have built upon areas susceptible to flooding. Because flooding is little understood and appreciated as a natural system in conventional land development, it arrives with unwelcome and unanticipated intensity.
Inland flooding and heavy debris flows follow intense winter storms and spring rainy seasons. Effects attributed to climate change are evidenced in increasingly severe storm events and the prospect of sea level rise.*
Precipitation patterns are changing, in some areas increasing in annual rainfall, while other areas are experiencing longer and more extensive drought. Across the nation, the severity of rainfall and storm events is increasing. At the same time, land development, agriculture, and urban sprawl take up more of the natural landscape that previously helped to mitigate and diffuse storm and flood intensity.
Lack of proper planning and design results in flooding that is a fearful threat to the life and property of individuals and communities in its path.
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This article is excerpted from Design for Flooding by Donald Watson and Michele Adams, copyright © 2011, with permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons.
* Bates, B.C., Z.W. Kundzewicz, S. Wu, and J.P. Palutikof, eds. Climate Change and Water, Technical Paper VI of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Geneva: IPCC Secretariat, 2008 [large PDF].
On Texas's Bolivar Peninsula in 2008, a number of houses remained standing next to pilings of those destroyed by Hurricane Ike.
Photo: Jocelyn Augustino/ FEMA
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As part of a waterfront revitalization project in Providence, Rhode Island, the Providence River was "daylighted," creating public spaces and a focal point for the city's Capital Center area.
Photo: Donald Watson
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