25% of all critical infrastructure in the United States at risk of failure due to flooding, new report finds

Today, one in four of all critical infrastructure in the United States – including police and fire stations, hospitals, airports, and wastewater treatment facilities – is at significant risk of being surrendered. unusable by flooding, according to a new report released today by the First Street Foundation, a nonprofit research and technology group that assesses the threat posed by flooding across the country.

The report also found that nearly 2 million miles of road – 23% of U.S. roads – are already at risk of becoming impassable due to flooding.

To provide what First Street says is the most comprehensive picture to date of community-level flood vulnerability, researchers looked at five categories in Lower 48 and the District of Columbia: Critical Infrastructure; social infrastructure, including museums, government buildings and schools; roads; commercial properties; and residential properties.

The report used operational flood risk estimates from official governing bodies to determine the amount of flooding it would take to take different types of facilities or services offline. The researchers then superimposed the types of flooding that can be expected in an area at least once every two years to assess the risk to the community.

Previous First Street reports have focused on the unknown flood risk facing US homeowners and the inadequate flood insurance coverage that many of them have, or often do not have. Experts say comprehensive assessments like the new report are essential as the country assesses how to adapt to a climate-changed future.

“Even if your home is safe and protected against a specific intensity of flooding, if flooding becomes more common and destructive in your community, the value of your property may also be at risk,” said Hamed Moftakhari, assistant professor. of environmental engineering at the University. from Alabama, which was not involved in the First Street report.

Where the risk of flooding is greatest today

If there is a zero point for flood danger in the United States, it is Louisiana.

The state is home to six of the 20 most at-risk counties in the country. Cameron Parish in southwest Louisiana is the most vulnerable county in the United States, closely followed by Orleans Parish, which includes New Orleans.

Jeremy Porter, head of research and development for First Street, said that while New Orleans has adapted its infrastructure and sea walls to withstand stronger storms, sea level rise continues and more destructive hurricanes could eventually overwhelm the city’s current defenses.

“It will need to be continually updated as the environment changes in the future,” Porter said. “The infrastructure in place today will not protect New Orleans in five, 10 or 15 years. It will only get worse with rising sea levels, with storms not only becoming more frequent, but also stronger. “

In the parishes of Cameron and Orleans, the report found that more than 94% of all critical infrastructure, including police and fire stations, which is critical to emergency response operations after disasters such as hurricanes, may be disconnected.

Florida is also home to some of the most flood-prone counties in the country, but the risk of flooding isn’t limited to coastal areas. Many areas of the Appalachian Mountains, such as McDowell County in West Virginia and Johnson County in Kentucky, are also among the most at risk due to the growing threat of heavy rains, First Street researchers said.

As the planet warms due to human-caused climate change, a warmer atmosphere can hold more water, making extreme precipitation events more likely to release massive amounts of water over short periods of time. of time.

Floods are already the most common and costly disaster in the United States, according to congressional testimony this year from FEMA deputy deputy administrator David Maurstad.

“Due to the impacts of climate change, there are communities across the United States that are going to have tough decisions in the years to come due to rising sea levels and the intensity of storms.” Maurstad told CNN. “It’s not just the Louisiana coast.”

A bill to mitigate the risk of flooding

President Joe Biden’s $ 1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill contains billions for flood mitigation and coastal storm restoration. The Senate version of the bill contains $ 7 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers and $ 3.5 billion for the FEMA Flood Mitigation Assistance Program, along with millions more for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration programs to make coastal communities more resilient to storms.

The bipartisan bill also contains billions of dollars in funding to improve roads and electrical infrastructure, and to make the energy grid more modern and resistant to severe storms.

The bill was negotiated in part by Republican Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, who touted how it will help vulnerable coastal communities recover from storms and prepare for future ones.
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But some of Cassidy’s Republican colleagues in the House and Senate disagree. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who represents three of the top five reporting communities in the United States with the most flood risk, is opposed to the bill.

Louisiana’s only Democratic congressman, Representative Troy Carter, told CNN in a statement he wanted the infrastructure bill passed.

“I remain hopeful that our Louisiana delegation will not throw the bipartisan history of infrastructure negotiations out the window,” Carter told CNN. “I am grateful that Senator Cassidy is supporting me in this effort. I have no intention of returning to my constituents empty-handed.”

Spokesmen for Scalise and Rep. Clay Higgins – a Republican who represents Cameron Parish – did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment on how they would prefer to help flood-prone communities in their districts.

it will get worse

The threat of flooding is growing rapidly in the United States. A devastating series of floods this summer killed dozens of people and caused billions of dollars in damage from Louisiana to Tennessee and New York.
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And as global warming melts ice caps, raises sea levels and tips the scales in favor of more extreme precipitation events, the risk will rise in many other communities, according to the First Street report.

Over the next 30 years, the number of residential properties at risk of flooding is expected to increase from 12.4 million today to 13.6 million by 2051, according to the report. For critical infrastructure and commercial properties, the number of vulnerable facilities is expected to increase by 6% and 7% respectively over the next three decades.

Geographically, the report found that flood threats will increase the most along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, but significant increases in vulnerability are also expected in large parts of the North. western Pacific.

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