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Study Shows It’s Cheaper to Preserve Floodplains Than Buy Out Properties After They Flood

A scientific study published in the journal Nature Sustainability on December 9th claims flooding is the costliest form of natural disaster. It also claims that those costs should increase due to new developments built in floodplains. Overall, the study found that for large areas, avoided damages exceed land acquisition costs by a factor of at least five to one. “Strategic conservation of floodplains would avoid unnecessarily increasing the economic and human costs of flooding while simultaneously providing multiple ecosystem services,” says the study.

Avoided Damages Can Exceed Land Acquisition Costs Up to 5:1

The new study by The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the University of Bristol (United Kingdom) and flood analytics company Fathom seeks to answer an important question related to flooding in the United States: What would save American taxpayers more? Protecting undeveloped flood-prone areas now or allowing development and paying for flood damages when they inevitably occur?

“A dollar invested in floodplain protection today returns at least $5 in savings from avoided flood damages in the future,” says Kris Johnson, PhD, The Nature Conservancy’s North America Deputy Director of Agriculture and one of the study’s authors.

High-density starter homes in Northpark Woods near West Fork San Jacinto flood plain. Photo taken 10/4/2019.

Flooding Costliest Form of Natural Disaster

TNC points out that “Flooding is among the most common of natural disasters. And it is the costliest. Average flood losses in the U.S. have increased steadily to nearly $10 billion annually. Meanwhile, the American taxpayer-backed National Flood Insurance Program is in record debt at nearly $25 billion.”

Would It Work in Houston?

Houston Chronicle reporter R.A. Schuetz interviewed several people at Harris County Flood Control about whether the national benefits found in the study translated to Harris County.

The Chronicle quoted Robert Lazaro, a communication officer with Flood Control. Lazoro agreed that buying land likely to flood plays an important role in minimizing future damages. “We’ve found that an ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure down the road,” Lazaro said.

However, Lazaro also felt the national analysis may not take into account regional regulations and other considerations, such as elevation requirements. Regardless, he hoped that it would inspire local policymakers to consider measures to reduce future flood damages.

Buy Low Before Population Arrives

The trick, it seems is getting to areas before they become highly populated and the price of housing is pushed up by the limited availability of land.

Net: the findings of this article may make more sense in rural counties surrounding major metropolitan areas, such as Chambers, Walker, Grimes, Liberty, Waller and Chambers.

Applying the Principle to the Elm Grove Disaster

The people in Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest sure wish the community had gotten together and purchased the Woodridge Village land for preservation. It sold to Perry Homes’ for about a million dollars, and had it been left in its natural state might have prevented an estimated $100 million in property damage.

Good market research has a knack of clarifying the obvious. This study did that. It quantified once again that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/26/2019

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