Work with nature, not against it, to protect from flood damage

November 21, 2006 Statement by Rob Masonis, Northwest regional director, American Rivers Contact: Amy Kober, 206-213-0330 x23 While we work as a region to ensure public safety and help communities recover from the recent flooding, we also need to assess what we can do to prevent dangerous and damaging floods in the future. Healthy rivers are dynamic by nature and floods are a natural part of the river ecosystem. In the past, many communities reacted to floods by building levees and floodwalls, channelizing rivers in concrete straitjackets – an approach that we’ve learned actually increases flood damage downstream. While levees and other structural solutions will continue to play a role, our region should consider simpler and more cost-effective solutions. The key to ensuring long-term community safety lies in working with nature, not against it. Many damaged rivers can be saved, and natural flood protection benefits restored, by repairing the natural form and function of rivers that have been damaged. Key steps should include: 1. Decreasing the amount of paved, impervious surfaces that prevent rainwater from soaking in to the ground 2. Protecting wetlands that absorb flood waters 3. Preventing new development in floodplains and river channel migration zones 4. When necessary, moving at-risk communities to higher ground Protecting natural floodplains is important because it gives rivers more room to spread out, which reduces flood levels. In some areas, levees can be set back farther from the river, or removed altogether if appropriate floodplain management steps are implemented. Giving some of the floodplain back to the river in unpopulated areas can also help alleviate pressure on levees guarding cities. In addition, restoring meandering river channels allows rivers to hold and gradually release heavy rainfall. Protecting and restoring natural flood control assets also yields tremendous benefits to communities beyond the obvious buffers from flooding. These benefits include clean drinking water, parks for recreation and wildlife, habitat for endangered salmon and steelhead, and the improved health of Puget Sound. National policy-makers should reform our federal flood insurance program, which continues to provide perverse incentives to rebuild not just in harm’s way, but also in an economically unsustainable way. # Founded in 1973, American Rivers is a national non-profit conservation organization dedicated to protecting and restoring healthy natural rivers for the benefit of people, fish, and wildlife. American Rivers has over 65,000 supporters nationwide, with staff in Washington, D.C. and the Mid-Atlantic, Northeast, Midwest, Southeast, California and Northwest regions. Visit