Coverage of the Ecosystem Services Partnership Conference
This morning I attended a working group hosted by Jeanne Christie of the Association of State Wetland Managers, Andrew Warner of The Nature Conservancy, David Conrad of the Clean Water Network, and David Batker of Earth Economics looking at ways that ecosystem services approaches might be used to mitigate flood losses in the US.
The costs of flood damage every year in the US amount to about $20 billion. The question asked by the group: could changing our economic assessment methods help to cut down on flood damages and spur more 'green' flood risk prevention projects?
As Christie put it, currently our national policy rewards "getting water off the land quickly, which leads to faster flows, and large engineering projects, which may not be able to handle larger flood events we may see as the climate changes."
The group received a briefing on how FEMA and the Corps currently carry out cost-benefit analysis, and discussed how incorporating a larger range of ecosystem service costs and benefits could strengthen those methodologies. As it stands today, explained Jody Springer of FEMA, the agency only considers reduced structural damages when it decides whether to acquire properties in floodplains and restore them to their natural state. Considering not just flood damages, but water quality benefits and improved habitat values could help to tip the scales toward more natural floodplain restoration and protection in the country.
Conversation considered barriers and opportunities to shape policy and decision making-tools for flood risk and floodplain management. Peter Black of SUNY ESF noted that we need to think about other incentives to mitigate flood damage like reforming federal flood insurance to discourage construction in flood plains in the first place. Bob Freitag of the University of Washington pointed out that beyond simply using environmental benefits "to add weight to a BCA," the agencies ought to make a shift to considering natural capital on the same level as built capital in economic assessments. Jim Robins of Alnus Ecological/SC3 asked when ecosystem service considerations would trickle down to the local agency level, noting that he had run into trouble with local floodplain managers when carrying out a riparian restoration project that would have created rise and thus increased flood stage in one area.
Incorporating ecosystem services considerations into how we manage flood risk has the potential to save a tremendous amount of money in flood damages and support better management of our flood plain areas - this is definitely an idea we'll be revisiting in future Ecosystem Marketplace coverage.