Diversifying funding sources for nature-based projects, data tracking can help states bolster flood resilience

Source(s): The Pew Charitable Trusts

By Mathew Sanders and Sarah Edwards

Almost every year in some region of the U.S., spring flooding damages infrastructure, disrupts local economies, and often takes lives. Now, as state leaders re-examine their flood mitigation practices, many see private investment in resilience and mitigation projects and improved expenditure tracking as promising strategies to reduce flood risks.

Legislation introduced in the Maryland Legislature’s last session, for example, encouraged private capital investment in nature-based climate mitigation and adaptation. This approach prioritizes solutions such as preserving natural green spaces, restoring dunes or wetlands, or engineering stormwater storage or filtration that mimics nature. Such strategies offer myriad co-benefits, including flood risk reduction, improved water quality, and carbon sequestration. Further, research shows such nature-based solutions, sometimes referred to as green or blue infrastructure, are often more cost-effective than so-called gray infrastructure such as levees and dams in protecting communities from flooding. The Chesapeake Bay region has already benefited from more than $4 billion in private conservation investment over 20 years; the Maryland bill sought ways to expand that investment.

In a recent virtual discussion with Pew’s State Resilience Planning Group, Timothy Male, founder and executive director of the Environmental Policy Innovation Center, highlighted key actions state officials could take—which were part of the Maryland bill—including:

  • Identifying watersheds as state infrastructure for financing programs.
  • Authorizing state revolving funds for forest protection and resilience work.
  • Establishing an advisory committee on green and blue infrastructure and restoration permitting to accelerate deployment of such projects.
  • Authorizing contracts based on environmental and climate outcomes, rather than service costs.

The actions outlined in Maryland’s proposed legislation acknowledge the challenges presented by climate impacts and propose solutions on how states can prepare for disasters by incorporating nature-based solutions into existing state programs and expanding opportunities for private investments.

Colin Foard from Pew’s Fiscal Federalism Initiative (FFI) added to the conversation in discussing how missing data about disaster-related spending and budgeting can inhibit a state’s ability to identify resilience gaps and vulnerabilities—an increasingly common issue as disasters become more frequent and severe.

FFI’s research has found that most states do not track spending across the various agencies involved in disaster preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery. One state that does is Ohio, where the Emergency Management Agency and the Office of Budget and Management have developed a comprehensive system to capture and report the state’s disaster-related costs. Under Ohio’s system, when the state’s Emergency Operations Center activates in response to an emerging disaster, fiscal officers across an array of state agencies are alerted and required to begin recording disaster-related expenditures.

Good data is the foundation of good planning. Having a better understanding of post-disaster and mitigation expenditures can help states better assess needs and gaps, allowing those states to focus investments on solutions that can reduce recovery costs. And research shows that forward-thinking investments pay off: Recovery and economic losses are reduced $6 on average for every $1 invested in projects that decrease risk before a natural disaster strikes.

As the changing climate increases flood risks, states are under increasing pressure to implement risk-reduction efforts and manage mitigation costs. State resilience officials can take advantage of the types of strategies Foard and Male describe to encourage greater and smarter investments in nature-based solutions and flood mitigation before and after disasters.

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