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Virginia Flood Risk Far Higher Than FEMA Thought

The Nature Conservancy

Federal maps of flood plains in the U.S. are dated and incomplete, so the Nature Conservancy has launched a massive study to determine the real risks of flooding in this country.  More than a million Virginians could face damage or destruction by 2050 if planners don’t stop putting people in harm’s way.

Working with scientists in Britain and sophisticated computer models, the Nature Conservancy set out to study the big picture – how river systems, wetlands and flood plains work together in the event of a storm.  They also considered new maps from the EPA showing where people actually live and concluded that 650,000 Virginians are at risk in the event of a hundred year flood. By 2050 that number could exceed a million, but the Nature Conservancy’s Chris Johnson says we can avert disaster through better planning.

“Better land use regulations, maintaining of open space, keeping healthy flood plains that actually work the way that they’re supposed to so that there’s room for a flood to happen and a river to meander, and we don’t have to protect assets that we shortsightedly put in harm’s way.”

Johnson says FEMA is already $25 billion in debt, so a change in strategy is needed if only to save money, and he argues a change in development patterns will bring other benefits.

“Because it means protecting open space, restoring these critical areas that it just so happens also are great for fishing and boating and sequestering carbon, and cleaning our drinking water and providing all kinds of other benefits.”

The Nature Conservancy’s Report did not include coastal flooding linked to sea level rise, hurricanes and storm surges.  

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief