Hurricane Season Is Here
Healthy rivers are the key to protecting people and property
Summer brings warmer water which means longer days and more opportunities to get out on rivers. The start of summer also means the start of hurricane season. We have already heard of the first tropical depressions that have formed off the Atlantic coast. While it is hard to predict exactly how “bad” a particular hurricane season will be, it is important that we underscore the importance of restoring healthy rivers and giving rivers room as one of the best ways to protect people and property from flooding.
There are several main factors exacerbating flood danger associated with hurricanes:
- Climate change: The warming waters and greater capacity for the air to hold moisture is creating more frequent and intense storms.
- Development and disconnection of floodplains: Floodplains are the natural, low-lying areas along rivers that absorb and store floodwaters. Centuries of development filling these low-lying riverside lands with homes and businesses, and cutting rivers off from their floodplains have now left nowhere for floodwaters to go, putting people and property in harm’s way when rivers flood.
- Outdated and unsafe dams: Hundreds of dams have breached or failed in recent years because of heavy rainfall and flooding, putting communities at risk. The Association of State Dam Safety Officials estimates that aging dams across the nation need more than $70 billion in repairs.
Communities across the Southeast are all too familiar with destruction from hurricanes and flooding. It is a recipe for disaster when we have increasingly severe storms, combined with outdated, aging infrastructure. We want communities to have the resources they need to stay safe, and also enjoy all of the benefits, like clean water and health, that a river offers.
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Our decision makers need to take action. Five actions needed to protect communities from increasingly severe flooding:
- Protect and restore floodplains: Naturally functioning floodplains store floodwaters and reduce downstream flooding. We need to take advantage of these natural defenses.
- Get people out of harm’s way: Poorly planned growth has allowed development in flood-prone areas, putting people in harm’s way. Where possible, we should replace developed areas with green spaces that can absorb floodwaters and buffer communities from damage.
- Strengthen state dam safety laws and programs: More than 80 failed dams in South Carolina over the past several years. Coupled with dozens of additional dam failures in North Carolina it is clear that our current standards, especially for earthen dams which are by far the most likely to fail, do not provide safety with the reality of today’s extreme flooding.
- Remove dams that do not meet safety requirements: We cannot wait until dams fail to take action. Poorly maintained and improperly designed dams need to be removed to protect downstream communities and infrastructure before they fail. See https://www.americanrivers.org/2016/10/removing-dams-can-save-lives/
- Relocate industrial livestock feedlots out of vulnerable floodplains. See America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2017 listing of Neuse and Cape Fear rivers: https://www.americanrivers.org/2017/06/neuse-cape-fear-floodplain-protection/
One of the best ways to safeguard people and property is by protecting and restoring rivers.
If we take care of our rivers, they will take care of us.