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14 September 2018

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From the Netherlands to China to California, people around the world are working with nature to manage flood risk. But as multiple risk factors such as sea level rise, urban development and a changing climate continue to alter landscapes, standards for effective flood management are also changing. Including nature-based methods in flood management portfolios will become the norm, rather than the exception, in building community resilience. These topics and more will be discussed in a three-part flood-themed podcast series hosted by WWF and America Adapts.

Listen to the first episode on the America Adapts website, or play it here:

Since 2016, Doug Parsons has hosted America Adapts, a podcast where listeners can hear conversations with scientists, policymakers and activists about challenges–and potential solutions–that communities face with a changing climate. Now Parsons partners with WWF’s Environment and Disaster Management program for a series on flood management, which will illustrate a range of issues including those described in the 2017 WWF Flood Green Guide. The first episode focuses on changing flood management strategies, as well as factors governments and communities should consider so they can successfully implement nature-based flood management methods. The second and third episodes will focus on community engagement, education and experiences people have dealing with flood risk around the world.

The WWF publication Natural and Nature-Based Flood Management: A Green Guide (also known as the Flood Green Guide or FGG) was developed by the EDM program at the request of the United States Agency for International Development Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance. Written primarily for application at the local level, the Flood Green Guide takes users through five stages of flood management project development. The FGG web platform, a free and open source, houses additional resources, case studies and stories from around the world, and will soon offer a FGG Trainers Guide.

“I’m encouraged and inspired by the opportunities we have to collaborate with water managers, engineers, environmentalists and community organizers globally to address the challenge of managing floods in an environmentally responsible way,” says Anita van Breda, senior director of the EDM program. “Successful flood management requires perspectives from all angles, from conservation specialists to local leaders, and this podcast series is one opportunity to get those perspectives.

“I think listeners will enjoy hearing flood stories from around the world, and I look forward to their feedback,” van Breda says.

“At some point, Mother Nature always has a larger storm,” says Steve Stockton. “You can’t just rely on structural measures” to prevent damage. Stockton worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for 41 years, where he served as the director of Civil Works. He acknowledges effective nature-based flood management requires coordination across all levels of government, but he also points out that these methods often end up costing less to implement than gray methods. And since so many aspects of everyday life depend on communities’ proximity to water, environmentally responsible flood management will continue to be important. “It’s about living with the water,” Stockton says.

“Flood risk management is always about combining solutions,” says Bregje van Wesenbeeck. “It’s never a single one.” Wesenbeeck is a senior researcher at Netherlands-based Deltares consulting firm, and she has worked closely with the Dutch government on its Room for the River program. But she stresses that it takes more than just nature-based structures to prevent flood damage. Non-structural methods–for example, effective early warning flood systems–are just as important to keep residents safe and allow them adequate time to prepare. “It’s about giving people the right information,” Wesenbeeck says.

She recommends listeners visit the Natural Hazards – Nature-based Solutions platform to learn about projects around the world dedicated to mitigating disaster risk using nature-based methods.

“It has been said that there are two kinds of levees in the world: those that have failed and those that will fail,” Jeff Opperman tells Parsons, explaining the risks that come with a traditional “levees-only” approach to flood management. Opperman, the lead freshwater scientist at WWF, describes examples of how engineers in the United States have revitalized natural floodplains to protect large cities from flood damage. Also listen to this segment to learn how salmon in the Sacramento Valley have benefited from nature-based flood management.

Photo at top: The Yolo Bypass, which diverts Sacramento River floodwater away from the city of Sacramento. (© Steve Martarano/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)