Floodplain management in the United States:
where, why, and how policies have shaped floodplain development?

Floodplains (Miami, NJ, Houston, NC)

How can communities grow safely in the face of a changing climate?

Managing infrastructure and housing development in hazardous areas is fundamental to limiting damages from extreme weather events.
But construction in hazardous places continues.

This project, funded by the National Science Foundation, investigates how and why some communities are able to grow without developing housing and infrastructure in floodplains. We are generating lessons for broader climate risk management efforts.

Our work has three research objectives:
  • Measure floodplain development.
    Identifying the factors that enable effective floodplain management requires data on where and when development is taking place. However, no systematic, nationwide measurements of floodplain development currently exist. We are applying today’s remote sensing capacities and data science tools to answer a long-standing question and measure change in floodplain development in U.S. communities.

  • Analyze patterns in floodplain development.
    We are evaluating whether the contextual factors previously identified as drivers of floodplain management, such as geography or demographics, are also associated with floodplain development. For example, do big cities or small towns develop more in floodplains?

  • Explain how legal and regulatory tools for avoidance and retreat influence development outcomes.
    We are exploring which legal and regulatory tools for avoidance and retreat have been adopted, for what purposes, and how they have been implemented. For instance, do towns that enforce strict zoning laws have less floodplain development?

This project is enhancing efforts by researchers and policymakers to build vibrant communities while limiting damage from climate-related extremes. Our floodplain development measurements will be open access, so researchers, local officials, and citizen advocates can use and adapt the data for their own needs and provide feedback to refine the indices. Ongoing work with practitioners is supporting a peer-to-peer learning network to improve floodplain development management.

The project team

Publications and presentations

Floodplains (Pittsburgh, NJ, IA)