To implement successfully flood risk mitigations, the local community must collaborate with various entities, assess the risk, and come up with goals and proper strategies to counter the risk. The collaboration requires the community to combine planning with relevant national and regional bodies and conform with the state and federal regulations for proper mitigation. Based on this highlight, this paper seeks to analyze the flooding risk in Alabama state and develop a strategic mitigation, response and recovery plan to be presented to the emergency planning board of the community. The first part involves assessing the risk and evaluating why it is a priority. The next step involves outlining the possible steps that may be required to mitigate the risk. The paper goes on to evaluate any impacts, challenges and how these difficulties can be overcome.
Local Mitigation Planning
Flooding in Alabama
In the United States, floods are one of the most widespread and common of all naturally occurring disasters. At some point in their lives, most people in the U.S. have experienced floods after spring rains, winter snow, heavy thunderstorms, or unusual rising of the lakes and ocean surges. Floods are slow in rising, especially in areas with broad expanses of flat land, where rainwater is likely to make its way to the river, sometimes leading to backflow in feeder streams (Milan, Schraven, & Warner, (2016).Alabama is one of the states in the U.S. that experiences periods of heavy rainfall and thunderstorms. Rainfall totals in the state usually go as high as four inches especially along the interstate 20 corridor. Based on previous and current records, flooding in Alabama is a high-risk hazard, with a high impact on the community living in the state. For instance, according to the National Weather Service, in March 1929, Alabama experienced one of the greatest floods as extreme rainfall occurred across the state, with the Southeast area experiencing the most intense floods. On the northern half of Alabama, the rainfall average was about 12 inches and around 17 inches in the southern side. The floods have been the worst experienced in the history of the state as rivers overflowed. In Elba, people stayed for up to three days on their rooftops until rescuers arrived. The damages were estimated to have cost the state around $9 million. In 1973, North Alabama in the Tennessee Valley region experienced heavy rainfalls that led to one of its major flash flooding, which would lead to flowing along rivers as the water filtered through creeks into larger waterways. The flood set the record for the maximum stream flow of the Tennessee river as several roads and bridges were washed away. Significant flooding also hit other rivers such as the Flint and Gauge rivers. Another big flood that hit Alabama was the March, April 1979 during the wet winter and early spring. The state experienced heavy rains that flooded the central and north Alabama in late March and early April. However, this was only the beginning of a widespread and more intense flooding that occurred later in the month of April. A storm, which started on April 11 and went on for the next two days, brought the rainfall inches to as high as 10-15 especially in the counties along the western side of the state. When water receded, the damage caused was estimated to be around $75 million and at least 15 deaths reported in the state. Still on March 1990, the state would experience more heavy rains averaging to about 8 to 16 inches. 13 people died in the flood and extensive damage was caused along the streets, roads, and bridges swept away. Hundreds of people also had to leave their homes, about 1,500 evacuated with no harm experienced, and almost all the businesses in Elba were destroyed as more than 1,000 homes were swept off in the floods. The Choctawhatchee River rose to a record of 40.32 feet exceeding the 39.4 feet of the March 1929. The last major flood to be in record is the Tropical storm Alberto, which occurred in July 1994 after heavy rains hit the area. The most devastating floods took place along the Choctawhatchee and Pea rivers, almost matching in record the 1929 and 1990 floods. Towards the extreme southeast of Alabama state, the storm rainfall averaged to about 15 to 20 inches and 5 to 10 inches along the Tallapoosa and Conecuh River basins. More than 1,000 homes were destroyed as Newton river reached 37.95 feet and at Geneva the river went as high as 42.42 feet making it the second highest crest to be recorded in the state. At the end of the floods, ten Alabama counties were classified as disaster areas, two deaths recorded and more than $112 million in damages linked to the flooding. Currently, although the floods experienced in the state are not as extreme as the ones in record, (Noori, Kalin, &Sen, 2016), assert that flooding is the second most common hazard occurring in the state of Alabama. On average, the state receives about 56 inches of rainfall every year, which is a high risk of flash and river line flooding especially along the coastal areas.
Why is the Hazard a priority?
According to the National Weather Service, Alabama is among the states in the U.S. that experiences heavy rainfall. Flooding in Alabama is considered a priority due to the frequency of occurrence. Although in the last two decades Alabama has not experienced devastating floods as the ones experienced in the historical years recorded, the state still experiences intense floods (Noori et al., 2016). As reports indicate, the events are more serious and cause more economic and physical damage to the community living in the state as their threat to human life and ecosystem increases each day. Communities living in the state are always on the alert about these weather-related catastrophes as the U.S. government seeks various reforms that can be put in place to improve protection and preparedness. Unfortunately, these measures are not enough in mitigating the flooding hazard. As it is, most of the structures designed to manage flooding are in dire condition and need repair which is not forthcoming. In light of this, this paper proposes various steps that can be initiated to mitigate flooding in the state of Alabama.
Steps to Mitigate Flooding Risk in Alabama
Flood risk mitigation seeks to minimize the danger associated with flood events to the community around the areas susceptible to flooding. According to the National Research Council and National Academies Press (2013), before planning on risk management, the most important step is analyzing the magnitude of the risk, measures that have been taken in the past to mitigate the potential effect of the floods, vulnerability of the people, and the consequences from the flooding event. The area’s characteristics define the initial risk and risk transfer measures as well as vulnerability. It is also important to note that each mitigation seeks to reduce the overall risk to some extent, and it is impossible to eliminate the hazard. Similarly, before embarking on any risk mitigation strategy, it is important to adhere to requirements of the Federal Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000, which demands the development of approved local hazard management plans. Considering these factors, the flood risk management seeks to identify various strategies that can be implemented with the aim of reducing the overall risk and leave only the residual dangers of flooding.
Levees, seawalls, and floodwalls are methods that can be used to reduce the risk of flooding in an area. The structures keep the floodwater at bay until such a time when the area behind the levee is swamped away, which means the people and property are affected. Nevertheless, and as National Research Council and National Academies Press, point out, any section within a flood area, is subject to some level of risk with or without a levee. It is therefore important for people in flat areas, which are at a high risk of flooding to understand the nature of risks they face and other steps they may take to shield themselves from the potential dangers of flooding. In light of this, people living in National Flood Insurance Program areas and the Special Hazard Area are required to purchase insurance policies and construct their houses with minimum requirements of first-floor elevations.
Dams are barriers that to prevent hydrological flow, retain floodwater before it gets to areas at risk. The structures are used to hold upstream floodwater that is then released gradually in a bid to reduce the risk of causing damage to communities living downstream. Alabama has around 108 small upstream dams, which were constructed almost four decades ago and the dams are in dire need of rehabilitation, as they will soon be reaching their end of life, which is 50 years design life (“Dams in Danger People at Risk?” n.d). In particular, most of the structural components are significantly damaged, with deteriorating concrete and rusted trash guards. Around twenty one dams have drainage gates, which are extremely rusted. Others make it hard to operate meaning that they would be useless in case of an emergency. Heavy storms may overwhelm or destroy the storage capacity leading to increased overflow downstream. The result large amounts of water released at once, leading to damage or destructions of levees. Such an incidence occurred during the spring floods, when the Missouri river dams burst sending large quantities of water downstream destroying the levees and several structures for the communities below the dams.
Floodways, spillways and channels can be constructed to redirect floodwaters around the area to rivers with a capacity to pass large volumes of water past the critical condition. Similarly, in some instances, rivers can also be modified to accommodate more floodwater although this an expensive and very involving project to undertake. For instance, in 2011, the USACE constructed floodways along the Mississippi river to reduce the pressure from upstream and for downstream levees in Illinois, and Kentucky among other places in Missouri (National Research Council & National Academies Press, 2013). In California, the local authorities have always used floodways to relieve pressure on levees around the Sacramento.
Estimated Costs for Proposed Strategy
Ultimately, the proposed strategies rely on the economic approach and the present value of constructing these structures. Note, the estimated cost for constructing the proposed strategy is based on the California Climate Change Center study, which was conducted in 2009. Firstly, building of sea walls may be a bit expensive for the local community and demand the intervention of the local government. According to Koch (2010), in 2009, the price for constructing a sea wall was estimated at around $6,789 per linear foot. Nevertheless, structures such as levees are easy and less demanding in terms of cost.. The center estimated the cost of building one levee to be around $1,922 per linear foot. Similarly, the cost for raising a levee is estimated to be around $679. Just like with the construction of seawalls, dams rehabilitation can be a little bit expensive for the local community and government, prompting the need to rely on the national government for financial intervention. Roughly, Koch explains that the cost of rehabilitating 71 dams is estimated to be about $ 24 million for both major and minor repairs. In fact, 20 of the total number of dams need complete rehabilitation, which means they must be rebuilt and upgraded to a more modernized design if protection of life and property is to be guaranteed. After a close analysis, we decided to settle on the construction of levees, as the other risk mitigation strategies were either too expensive or too involving for the community and should be left to the national government to take care.
Legal, Political, and Community Impacts of the Project
Since the construction of the levees will be by a local sponsor, who is legally mandated by full authority and capability to perform the work, they will also be liable for any damages that may occur in the future. Legally, the local sponsors are responsible for the condition, operation, and maintenance of the project. In case the levees fail to hold up the flood water and individuals downstream get damaged by flooding, then the local sponsors may be faced by a lawsuit claiming that the levees have caused them damages, contributed to the damages or that the local sponsors did not give enough warnings about the risks involved. Politically, this may affect the political figures who may be sponsoring or supporting the project. By building the levees, the project will make sure that people or the community who suffered from floodwater no longer have to worry. On a positive wide, it is likely to earn the political figures mileages. Unfortunately, in case the project backfires or the levees get damaged by heavy storms of rainfall, then the people might view the politicians as to have knowingly constructed levees that were not strong enough to manage the strength of the storms.
Potential Outcomes in Case the Proposed Projected Fails to Commence
In case the project fails to commence, the climatic conditions of Alabama might eventually have devastating effects. For instance, extended period of floods are likely to erode land of all nutrients leading to poor plant growth, which means poor harvest. When agriculture gets affected, the economic condition of the state and the country at large is more likely to suffer. Legally, residents of affected areas may decide to take action and sue the government for neglect during natural disasters or for failure to give adequate warnings regarding the floods.
Emergency Management Concept
Before embarking on any risk mitigation project, it is important to go through the four phases of emergency management, which include preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation.
This will involve understanding the flood hazard affecting the state of Alabama, which was achieved through research and review of existing studies, historical documentation, and flood events. The tools helped the planning team to arrive at a specific decision and decide on the right course of action to take.
Essentially, the mitigation process started before getting to the response phase because decisions made when responding to the emergency are likely to affect the recovery process. During this phase, the committee needs to be involved in decisions to manage risks in flood prone areas. The other thing is talking with the relevant authorities who are involved and may influence the successful completion of the project.
This phase includes short, medium, and long-term planning. During this phase, the committee is expected to explain to the administrators and the other parties how the project will be completed. It is at this phase where the committee will need to get the relevant permits, pay any fees as per the requirements and consider staffing capabilities.
This is the right time to participate in Hazard Mitigation Planning Committee meetings and have ready the approved plan as it is required for presentation for grants. During this time, the committee will also be required to work with the floodplain administrator to identify potential mitigation projects that may need to be addressed.
Challenges with the Project
The construction of the levees will have significant benefits, although the consequences can be catastrophic, which is challenging to the community. For instance, during heavy floods levees may experience continuous stress, which can be threatening to their integrity. A more serious challenge may result from extreme waves, soil erosion on the landside of the levee. Waves destroy the top of the structure, while seepage destroys the levee from within. An example is during the Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, which led to the failure of the levees. Another challenge that the community is likely to face is funding. Although the construction of one square feet is relatively low as compared to seawalls, constructing a perimeter can be expensive for the local community.
Solution to the Challenges
The risk of overtopping levees can be mitigated by constructing controlled levees. This can be done by using different heights, notches, or openings for different locations (National Research Council (U.S.) & National Academies Press, 2013). Controlled leeves breaching is usually carried out when sustained high flow events are on course, because that is the best time, and the intentional diversion can be justified. Alternatively, the community can use the forced levees where there is no other ready way to drain excessive floodwater. These are made using tracked backhoe excavators and are highly significant where land is damaged by excessive floods. The FEMA Hazard Mitigation Assistance Grant stipulates that FEMA should provide funding to risk management measures that are being designed in the interests of the nation and are cost-effective. However, the community have a task to convince the funders that the benefits of the projects outweigh the cost as this is one of the requirements for grant funding.
Short and Long term Recovery Goals
Goal definitions are critical in providing every plan with an overall vision. It is the work of the steering committee to develop these goals, as they will serve as a general guidance for flood hazard mitigation in the future. The short-term goals may include but not limited to, use flood plan to identify funding for pilot projects. The other short-term objective may involve developing a list of potential structures that need to be constructed to reduce the risk of flood hazards. Other short-term goals may involve inventory opportunities for acquisition or restoration of land in floodplain to reconnect affected areas, while providing flood management. Long-term goals the community may undertake include working with forest management services and private companies for areas that need improvement or closure for reduced sediment delivery. Obtain further information about areas that need flood reduction strategies and look for alternatives to address issues such as dam’s restoration and repair.
“Dams in Danger People at Risk?” (n.d). Natural Resources Conservation Service: United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved from: https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/nrcs141p2_021539.pdf
“Floods in Alabama.” (n.d). National Weather Service. Retrieved from: gov/states/al-flood.shtml”>http://www.floodsafety.noaa.gov/states/al-flood.shtml
Koch, J.V. (2010). Costs of Defending Against Rising Sea Levels and Flooding in Mid-Atlantic Metropolitan Coastal Areas: The Basic Issues. The Journal of Regional Analysis & Policy, 40(1), p. 53-60.
Milan, A., Schraven, B., Warner, K., & Cascone, N. (2016). Migration, Risk Management and Climate Change: Evidence and Policy Responses. Cham: Springer International Publishing.
National Research Council (U.S.) & National Academies Press (U.S.). (2013). Levees and the National Flood Insurance Program: Improving policies and practices. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
Noori, N., Kalin, L., Sen, S., Srivastava, P., & Lebleu, C. (2016). Identifying areas sensitive to land use/land cover change for downstream flooding in a coastal Alabama watershed. Regional Environmental Change, 16(6), p. 1833-1845.
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