Building Community Resilience with Nature-Based Solutions: A Guide for Local Communities

In 2020, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) published this guide to help communities identify the multiple benefits of nature-based solutions (NBS) and incorporate NBS into their efforts to build resilience to increasing climate change hazards. The guide includes a range of information about different types of NBS, determining their value, and implementing NBS to aid communities at different phases of the hazard mitigation process. Communities looking to build community and political support for NBS, to fund NBS, and to incorporate NBS into new and existing local plans and policies can all benefit from this guide. 

The guide contains six total sections elaborated upon below. 

What are Nature-Based Solutions?: At the start of this section, FEMA defines NBS as "sustainable planning, design, environmental management, and engineering practices that weave natural features or processes into the built environment to build more resilient communities." Next, the three categories of NBS are identified (i.e., watershed or landscape scale; neighborhood or site scale; and coastal areas) and examples of NBS within each of those categories are provided (e.g., wetland restoration, green roofs, living shorelines, etc.).

The Business Case: This section explains the fiscal reasoning for implementing NBS by describing their multiple benefits. First, this section presents hazards (e.g., riverine flooding) that can be mitigated through the incorporation of NBS (e.g., floodplain restoration) and provides an example of a community that has implemented a NBS to mitigate that hazard. Next, this section describes the environmental, economic, and social benefits that NBS can bring to communities and highlights communities that have experienced those benefits. Finally, this section describes the cost savings that can accrue for communities that implement NBS.

Planning and Policy-Making Phase: This section describes how communities could incorporate NBS into their planning processes and programs. This section identifies several departments, such as public works, parks and recreation, and environmental protection, that should be involved in the NBS planning process. For each department, FEMA suggests local officials to contact, the types of NBS to assess, and how to update governing documents to implement those NBS (e.g., Hazard Mitigation Plans, Stormwater Management Program Plans). Examples of communities and federal agencies that have incorporated NBS into their planning and policy processes are also presented. For example, FEMA recently increased the credit communities participating in the Community Rating System (CRS) can receive for incorporating NBS in their flood risk reduction activities under the National Flood Insurance Program to encourage those communities to adopt NBS. Folly Beach, South Carolina included NBS in its CRS program and accordingly received a thirty percent premium reduction. 

Implementation Phase: This section describes a variety of funding models for the implementation of NBS. The section first presents strategies and programs for increasing public funding for NBS (e.g., funding with stormwater utility fees), and then presents ways for communities to boost private investment in the implementation of NBS (e.g., Environmental Impact Bonds). 

Federal Funding Opportunities: This section summarizes several federal grant programs that can fund NBS, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association's Community-Based Restoration Program and National Coastal Resilience Fund, FEMA's Hazard Mitigation Assistance Program, the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant Program, and the Environmental Protection Agency's Section 319 Nonpoint Source Management Program. For each funding opportunity, a description of the program and eligible projects are presented. 

Key Takeaways: The guide ends with the following four key takeaways for local communities interested in implementing NBS:

  1. The most appealing aspect of NBS are their multiple environmental, social, and fiscal benefits. Communities should highlight those multiple benefits in NBS proposals to garner interest and support from residents and potential funding sources.
  2. Multiple departments within a community will need to collaborate to successfully integrate NBS into the community's hazard mitigation strategy. 
  3. To scale-up NBS, communities should maximize available funding opportunities by integrating multiple public investment strategies and incentivizing private investments in NBS. 
  4. Communities should apply to a range of grant programs, including those that can support the wide variety of co-benefits that can be achieved through the implementation of NBS.

Publication Date: August 2020

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