Report: Urban flooding posing national economic issues

Posted at 2:25 PM, Nov 28, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-28 17:46:40-05

Increased flooding is posing a national challenge and causing a significant impact on the economy, according to a report from Texas A&M University and the University of Maryland.

The report pushes lawmakers to take action at the local level and define responsibilities. The recommendation is one of nine at all levels to take control of a growing environmental and economic threat.

“As we have witnessed for ourselves here in Texas, urban flooding is a serious threat to lives, property, and economic and infrastructure development,” said Michael Young, Texas A&M University President. “This unprecedented study is a wake-up call for the entire nation that urban flooding is a growing and dangerous problem, but likewise enormously powerful and exceptionally useful as it outlines feasible remedial approaches and solutions.”

The university says researchers have found major threats and trends that need prompt attention.

“Most Americans will be surprised to learn that much of the country’s urban flooding occurs outside traditional 100-year floodplains,” said Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp, who was chosen to head the Governor's Commission to Rebuild Texas after Hurricane Harvey. “The work by the Texas A&M System and the University of Maryland is another example of how research universities serve the public good. Only by understanding the problem can we find the solutions.”

The report shows a rising prevalence of urban flooding across the country.

Urban flooding happens when rainwater exceed what the ground can absorb. As development continues, drainage systems reach capacity faster.

“The frequency of these events erodes the economic stability, health, and safety of a community over time. And the impacts can be felt miles from a stream channel or water body,” said Sam Brody, Director of the Center for Texas Beaches and Shores on the Galveston Campus.

In a recent survey, Texas residents weighed in on the concerns.

  • 83 percent of respondents said they had experienced urban flooding in their community
  • 46 percent of respondents indicated that urban flooding happens in most areas.
  • 85 percent of respondents had experienced urban flooding outside the Special Flood Hazard Area
  • 51 percent had been affected by moderate or larger urban floods

Researchers found that more than 25 percent of National Flood Insurance Program claims filed in 1972 through 2014 were submitted for properties outside the 100-year flood zone. Results suggest that damage over the last several decades was caused by poor drainage systems and development.

Despite the threats, experts say that many local governments have been unable to curb urban flooding. They also conclude that there are no federal agencies responsible for overseeing mitigation efforts.

“Management and oversight activities related to urban flooding are scattered throughout governance levels and agencies,” said Gerry Galloway, an engineering professor from UMD. “This creates overlaps in responsibility in some cases, gaps in others, and generally curbs progress toward effective management."

“It is also apparent that many people who live and work in flood-prone urban areas don’t know the risks,” Galloway said.  

The focus of the report remains on asking officials to review current oversight policies in their jurisdiction.

They also ask lawmakers and federal agencies to take steps to support communities. They are pushing for a force to monitor mitigation efforts.

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