Study Shows Ways California Coasts Can Avoid Flood Damage

As California transitions from drought-stricken state to El Niño-stricken state, a team of scientsists from the Nature Conservancy and UC Santa Cruz have come forward with a study that shows ways coastal regions of California can reduce flood damage.

The report’s primary focus is on risky costal developments that endanger themselves by impairing the floodplain’s natural ability to control water levels and prevent flood damage. The report provides a simple method for identifying areas with the greatest flood risk and providing the best habitat conservation benefits via FEMA hazard mitigation projects already in-place.

“We developed a multi-objective approach to identify areas where the greatest risk reduction and habitat conservation benefits can be achieved simultaneously in California, effectively killing two birds with one stone,” said lead author JulianoCalil to the San Jose Mercury News, a doctorate candidate in the Ocean Sciences Department at UCSC. “We are facing very complex environmental and socioeconomic problems around the world at an unprecedented scale. Approaches like the one we’ve developed, where distinct goals are combined into multi-objective projects, are going to be essential to solve these issues. It just doesn’t make sense to talk about reducing future flood risks and damages without considering restoring floodplains.”

From 1780 to 1980, California lost 91 percent of its coastal wetlands to development. Such coastal wetlands provide vital outlets for rainwater, which has nowhere to go without these areas. This rainwater goes on to flood these vulnerable coastal areas, like Sonoma County. The County takes up roughly 1 percent of California territory, but accounts for 32 percent of flood damage claims in the state.

“Unless we reduce risk globally, annual flood losses may top $1 trillion by the year 2050,” said co-author Sarah Newkirk to the San Jose Mercury News, coastal director of the California Chapter of the Nature Conservancy. “Risk reduction by fortifying unwise development will cause further loss of wetlands, but conservation and restoration of floodplains that act as buffers to coastal structures will help fisheries, beaches and coastal communities.”

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