Water Rising: Equitable Approaches to Urban Flooding

In July 2020, the US Water Alliance released the report Water Rising: Equitable Approaches to Urban Flooding. The Report focuses on providing best practices for equitable solutions to flood control and resilience. It proposes five priority actions that policymakers can undertake to achieve this work: using data to identify risks, assets, and community vulnerabilities; committing to ongoing and meaningful community engagement; setting a proactive vision and building strategic alignment with that vision; fully incorporating equity into any resilience planning processes; and emphasizing that investors target frontline communities.

The Report starts with an introduction, which details the risks flooding poses to frontline communities in particular, and the inequities that result when flooding occurs. Historically, through development practices like redlining, people of color were placed in more flood-prone areas within cities. Due to underinvestment, infrastructure within these areas is frequently in worse condition than infrastructure outside them, meaning that many of these communities cannot deal with the rising tides floods bring adequately. Further still, many low-income residents within these communities cannot afford flood insurance, nor can they evacuate during flood events. As flooding becomes more frequent, governments are increasingly finding it necessary to implement policies that address equitable resilience to the phenomenon. 

The Report identifies five different priorities for addressing equitable flood resilience in frontline communities: 

  1. Use data to identify the risks, assets, and vulnerabilities a specific community has when pertaining to floods. To create more resilient solutions, technical flooding and precipitation data should be paired with data on socio-economic drivers, such as population statistics regarding disadvantaged community members. In overlaying these data sets, communities most at risk of flooding can be identified more quickly, and risks can be mitigated more easily. 
  2. Commit to ongoing and meaningful community engagement, through transparent information exchange with community leaders, to ensure that trust is built and that implemented policies will advance equitable resilience. 
  3. Set a proactive vision and build strategic alignment through this collaborative community engagement process. This process involves coordinating efforts across agencies and sectors and leveraging partnerships to acquire funding, which will reduce burdens for single entities working towards resilient flooding policies. 
  4. Incorporate equity strategies into any planning process that involves advancing resilience. Strategies must be grounded in allowing communities to articulate their needs and offer commentary on potential solutions to improve policy outcomes. 
  5. Target investments in frontline communities. Projects that are designed to result both in economic benefits as well as reducing flood vulnerabilities should be highlighted. 

The report was developed based on lessons learned after a year of consultation with nine US cities, supported by the Kresge Foundation through an “Urban Flooding Bootcamp” series. The Bootcamp sought to address one of the biggest obstacles to the advancement of equitable flooding policies: the lack of communication between the various stakeholders necessary to implement these policies, such as local governments, water professionals, utilities, city agencies, and frontline community leaders. The purpose of the Bootcamp was to bring together “cross-sector learning teams in nine US cities to understand better how cities, utilities, and communities are collaborating to address flooding challenges and bolster community resilience.” Each of the cities created a team with representatives from applicable stakeholders to learn best practices from each other. By the end of the Bootcamp, all teams set priorities for equitable flood resilience, and established priority neighborhoods where resilience efforts would be implemented. The nine participating cities included Chicago, IL; Des Moines, IA; Detroit, MI; Hampton, VA; Houston, TX; Jackson, MS; Philadelphia, PA; Raleigh, NC; and Seattle, WA.


Publication Date: July 2020

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  • Best practice
  • Engagement
  • Policy analysis/recommendations


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