Rhode Island is yet again drying out after flooding. And one group in the state wants to get the word out about the increased risk of flooding in the future.
The Rhode Island Flood Mitigation Association is made up of emergency responders, planners, engineers, and other people whose work intersects with floodplain management.
Leah Feldman, the chairwoman of the organization’s board, is a coastal policy analyst for the Coastal Resources Management Council. She answered a few of our questions about the rising risk of floods – and whether Rhode Island is ready for it.
Why is this work important right now?
Increased frequency of severe weather events, sea level rise, and a changing climate are all contributing to increased flood risk for many Rhode Island communities. Rhode Island planners, emergency management officials, floodplain managers, and other related practitioners are concerned that Rhode Island residents are not prepared to effectively mitigate the impacts of flood damage.
Rhode Island salt marshes are rapidly being lost to rising sea levels, and man-made flood resilience measures are being overcome by record-breaking weather events. We need to bring planners, scientists, and policy makers together to ensure a safer and more resilient future for all Rhode Islanders.
What does the recent flooding we’ve experienced say about the state of Rhode Island’s flood preparedness?
We can continue to prepare for the floods, but we also need to take steps toward finding more fundamental solutions. We need to support policies that tackle the root of the issue, the issue being that Rhode Island stormwater infrastructure is crumbling under pressure from an increase in rainfall and development.
Is it the sort of thing that we, as a state, have front of mind?
I think it’s becoming more and more of a priority as dollars continue to be spent to mitigate damages. Some of our neighboring states in New England are doing a lot more in terms of reducing flood damage. Floods don’t stop at state lines. So if there are programs in place that work for our neighbors, then why aren’t we doing the same?
What more could we be doing?
I think the main priority right now is information dissemination and education.
We need to ensure that folks who are living in higher risk areas are aware of their risks, and those who are looking to buy a home or build a home in a flood-prone area need to understand the danger inherent to that choice. People need to be made aware of the National Flood Insurance Program in order to make informed decisions about their purchases and appetite for risk.
Also, we need Rhode Island regulations and policies to encourage or mandate environmentally sound floodplain management.
Is there anything in particular that everyday Rhode Islanders can do to prepare for a future in which flooding is a bigger concern?
Rhode Island residents – regular people, not just planners – need to make sure they maintain awareness of their flood zone, become familiar with FEMA flood maps, and use future-casting tools provided through organizations like the CRMC and Sea Grant, such as STORMTOOLS, the Coastal Hazard Application, our Shoreline Adaptation Inventory, and others to plan for potential disasters.
This story first appeared in Rhode Map, our free newsletter about Rhode Island that also contains information about local events, links to interesting stories, and more. If you’d like to receive it via e-mail Monday through Friday, you can sign up here.