As California faces a relentless deluge, with flooding and mudslides threatening communities across the state, officials and planners are assessing damage in real time and planning for how to make the state more resilient to future storms.
Linda Shi is an urban environmental planner whose research focuses on how to plan for urban climate adaptation in ways that improve environmental sustainability and social justice. Shi says the floods in California demonstrate the need for “large-scale” change, but that governments face difficulties coordinating relocation, levee removal and land use change. Shi points to states like Washington and Texas, whose policies provide some lessons for adapting to floods.
“The extensive floods in California signal the need for large-scale, statewide land use planning and coordination. There's a lack of institutional capacity to do it at all, much less sensitively in collaboration with diverse stakeholders. Transformative change from the levee approach entails not only a technological shift, but also building organizational capacity to manage landscapes in a new way.
“Indicative of the need for institutional innovation, states like Washington have already pioneered some of these efforts, through the program Floodplains by Design, which works with tribes, farmers, and local governments to remove levees and homes, swap farmland, and restore salmon habitats. Texas, after Hurricane Harvey, also shifted from county-based flood control districts to watershed-based river management.”