Proactive Flood and Drought Management: A Selection of Applied Strategies and Lessons Learned From Around the United States

From the American Water Resources Association (AWRA), this report presents a collection of case studies on adaptive flood and drought management. The case studies selected exemplify creative management of multiple water resource goals, and the agencies responsible “have acted in a proactive manner to address the enormous societal problems droughts or floods inflict in their jurisdictions.”  While drawn from the past, these case studies are useful today as they uniquely demonstrate collaborative solutions across multiple agencies and public policy objectives. Federal, state, and local agencies can look to these cases and recommendations for guidance on prioritizing and coordinating water resource policies and programs.

Four case studies of proactive flood management, and four of proactive drought management are presented. Each case study provides extensive detail with a background of the area or resource district and its history with flood or drought, a description of preparedness and mitigation programs and strategies, costs and financing, benefits of the management approach profiled, and next steps.

As summarized in the report, the case studies on flood management were chosen for the following attributes: 

The Chehalis River Basin in Washington is an example of a collaborative basin-wide strategy involving a diverse array of stakeholders and jurisdictions. The strategy emphasizes the value of simultaneously pursuing large-scale, small-scale, and ecosystem-based projects. 

The Miami Conservancy District in Ohio is considered a pioneer in regional flood protection. A series of dry dams preserve normal base flows for the Miami Basin, storing waters only during high precipitation events. Extensive preserved floodplain acres have been transformed into waterfront parks for public access. Unlike the other case studies, operation and maintenance costs are funded through local tax assessments. 

Easton, Pennsylvania is one of the first communities to administer a 500-year flood standard, and has focused on managing the built environment in the floodplain as opposed to pursuing a property buyout program. Its model may be of particular interest to other older and/or high-density communities that have little vacant land and that have industrial or downtown commercial zones vulnerable to flooding. 

Nashville, Tennessee’s response to a 2010 flood serves as a model for collaborative stakeholder process in the evaluation of localized flood reduction alternatives. The city developed exemplary flood warning systems, expanded its Home Buyout Program to remove floodplain structures, and considered several alternatives to protect critical water infrastructure. 

The case studies on drought management were chosen for the following qualities:

The San Antonio Water System (SAWS) in south Texas is a large municipal water supplier managing drought and restrictions on water resource use due to federally-protected species. Management efforts include conservation, demand response, and source diversification. Of particular note is SAWS’ partnership with the San Antonio Police Department in enforcing drought restriction ordinances. 

The State of Oregon Interagency Water Availability Subcommittee of the Oregon Drought Council meets monthly to assess water supply and demand in each basin. When necessary, the Water Resources Department facilitates temporary transfers, leases, and exchanges to help relieve drought impacts

The State of Hawaii’s Drought Plan provides a comprehensive model for drought monitoring and mitigation. It is coordinated at the state level but refined and implemented by local and county governments (island by island)

Lone Chimney Water Association in northeast Oklahoma is a small water system struggling to respond to drought with limited options and resources. The adaptation efforts of the Association and the residents it serves could be a harbinger for what other small water systems and water districts may face.

Based on lessons from the case studies the report recommends 19 strategies to facilitate, design, and carry out proactive flood and drought management. Some of the recommendations, among others, include to:

  • Solicit support from politicians to prioritize flood and drought recovery and management
  • Use third-party facilitators when necessary to bring diverse perspectives together to create shared vision and agree on management priorities
  • Base management strategies on updated scientific data, utilizing spatial analysis and scenario planning
  • Create partnerships between local, state, regional, and federal entities for technical assistance, expertise, and resources; and communicate and share information early, often, and regularly
  • Assemble a representative, muli-stakeholder group to council around the design and implementation of management strategies
  • Utilize local ordinances and zoning to manage floodplain and drought regulations and restrictions

This report is intended to inform the AWRA’s policy statement calling for proactive flood and drought policy and management. AWRA’s Policy Committee composed of scientists, educators, policy-makers, and water resource professionals produces policy statements to help improve public policy around water resources management in the United States.


Publication Date: August 2013

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  • Best practice
  • Case study


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