Hurricane Season: Restore rivers to protect people and property

May 22, 2019

Contact: Amy Kober, 503-708-1145, [email protected]

As we enter hurricane season along the Atlantic coast, American Rivers is underscoring the importance of restoring healthy rivers and giving rivers room as the best way to protect people and property from flooding.

“The Carolinas have been hit with devastating hurricanes and flooding for four years in a row. While we hope to avoid the worst of the 2019 hurricane season, we also need to prepare. Climate change is making flooding more frequent and severe. Giving rivers room to safely accommodate and better manage floodwaters is the best way to keep communities safe,” said Gerrit Jöbsis, Senior Director, Rivers of Southern Appalachia and the Carolinas.

There are two main factors exacerbating flood danger associated with hurricanes:

  • Development and disconnection of floodplains: Floodplains are the natural, low-lying areas along rivers that absorb and store floodwaters. By cutting rivers off from floodplains with levees and filling these lands with pavement, homes and businesses, there’s nowhere for floodwaters to go – and we’ve put people in harm’s way.
  • Outdated and unsafe dams: The Association of State Dam Safety Officials estimates that aging dams across the nation need more than $70 billion in repairs. More than 100 dams breached in recent years in South Carolina and North Carolina because of hurricanes and flooding.

“If we want to keep our families and communities safe, we need to protect and restore our rivers. It’s time for action now,” said Jöbsis.

Five actions needed to protect communities from increasingly severe flooding:

  1. Protect and restore floodplains: Naturally functioning floodplains store floodwaters and reduce downstream flooding. We need to take advantage of these natural defenses.
  2. 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 damages.
  3. Strengthen state dam safety laws and programs: More than 80 dams failed 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.
  4. 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/
  5. 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/

Experts available for comment:

Gerrit Jöbsis, Senior Director, Rivers of Southern Appalachia and the Carolinas (Columbia, SC):803-771-7114, [email protected]

Peter Raabe, Conservation Director, Rivers of Southern Appalachia & the Carolinas (Durham, NC): 919-682-3500, [email protected]