Unequal Flood Protection Makes Floods Worse for Some Communities

Levees can save towns, but they can also push water downstream making floods worse, meaning that if wealthier places are protected, it’s sometimes at the expense of poor communities.
August 17, 2018, 11am PDT | Casey Brazeal | @northandclark
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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Where rivers flood, the most common technique used by the Army Corps of Engineers to protect homes is to build levees. Reporting from ProPublica suggest that this strategy creates some harm. When rivers don't overflow their banks, that water has to go somewhere, so levees that protect one area can worsen flooding in somewhere else. This makes the placement of levees a sticky issue.

The Army Corps of Engineers tries to prevent property damage so it looks at the value of land and homes near rivers and uses that information to help decide where to build levees. "But the calculations favor highly valued property over less affluent communities. And the Corps has favored levee-building over nonstructural fixes such as buying out homes to create space for the river to spread out during a flood — practices that many experts say are more effective in the long run, but which the Corps concluded were 'seldom economically justified,'" report Lisa Song, Patrick Michels, and Al Shaw for ProPublica. As climate change exacerbates extreme weather, flood infrastructure is going to become increasingly important.

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Published on Monday, August 6, 2018 in ProPublica
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