Flood monitoring reveals integrated infrastructure needed

Efficient investment in water, power, communication critical

The United States Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) maps indicate which areas are most susceptible, designating special flood areas and future flood risk zones. However, many northeastern U.S. residents claim that they aren’t sufficiently aware of their own area’s history or risk of flooding or stormwater management – until increasingly severe storms have done damage.

“Even FEMA flood risk maps rely on a limited set of data,” said Christiana Pollack, a hydrologist and project manager at Princeton Hydro, an environmental services and engineering firm.

"Shifting climate, changes in precipitation and water flow, the age of the data(sets) used, and the underlying topological information can affect the ability to accurately predict floodplains and hazard zones. That’s why waterways … may appear to flood beyond expected boundaries.”

Upper Darby, Philadelphia, U.S.A. FEMA flood hazard map | image credit Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

Flood analysis and mitigation also take into account anecdotal evidence for the most extreme storm events. Collective and personal memories about these flood events are reviewed with objective weather records, in an effort to understand a location’s history. This knowledge is factored into predictions about potential future hazards.

Even without intense rainfall, a storm and its high winds can cause power outages. Without electricity, phones / communication as well as drinking water distribution, stormwater and wastewater collection systems, and transportation networks are negatively impacted.

“We cannot plan for infrastructure resilience and treat these different systems in silos,” Pollack said.

Klaus Jacob of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Laboratories specializes in the effects of climate change on infrastructure; he said that infrastructure issues have to be viewed from a very long-term perspective.

During a NOAA press call on 14 July 2021, Nicole LeBoeuf, director of the National Ocean Service, asserted, "For the first time in human history, the infrastructure we build must be designed and constructed with future conditions in mind along the coast. These data that we provide help communities plan where to put buildings and how to keep people safe."

man walking through flood waters at Long Wharf, Boston, U.S.A. | photo credit Robin Lubbock, W-B-U-R