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TFMA Annual Conference 2022: Promoting Advocacy in Floodplain Management

March 18, 2022
Susanna Pho, CFM

The 2022 Texas Floodplain Management Association’s Annual Conference was held over three days of panels, presentations, field trips, and networking opportunities. Our team had the pleasure of attending to meet some of our Texan users in person and learn about the amazing work happening throughout the state!

Nature Based Solutions to Mitigation

One of the first workshops of the conference discussed how nature-based solutions can be crucial in supporting flood risk mitigation processes. Described as “a path towards improving long-term resilience”, nature-based solutions provide a source of management through the use of natural resources to sustainably apply flood damage mitigation. Nature-based solutions can positively impact flood protection and risk reduction, wildlife habitat restoration, water quality, recreational activities, and economic security for a community. Implementing nature-based solutions can also help communities earn credits in the CRS program, particularly for Activities 420 (Open Space Preservation, 2,020 credits), 430 (Higher Regulatory Standards, 2,042 credits), and 520 (Acquisition & Relocation,1,600 credits).

Chris Levitz and Taylor Nordstrom of AECOM presented grant and fund opportunities for the implementation of nature-based solutions. “Climate change and population pressure exacerbating challenges associated with natural hazards” as well as the “widespread loss and conversion of natural areas to other land uses” increase the need for communities to think outside the box for holistic projects rooted in existing ecosystems. They noted that, as the population continues to grow in Texas, communities are outgrowing current stormwater drainage systems which will eventually leave little-to-no room to address these issues in a sustainable manner and with the appropriate amount of funding.

One of the case studies highlighted by Levitz and Nordstrom for best practices in implementing nature-based solutions is Houston’s Exploration Green project. The project involves using green stormwater infrastructure to convert a “178-acre golf course into a series of detention [ponds] and wetlands to detain and slow floodwaters”. This benefits the city as it holds up to 500 million gallons of stormwater, and the land serves as a nature preserve/recreation area to be utilized by residents. This project cost $17 million, supplied by funding from the city’s stormwater bond program. Taylor Nordstrom added, “Projects like these are a great first step to helping communities build resiliently and become better stewards of their natural resources. We developed [a] guidebook to help educate and encourage people to see nature-based solutions as real solutions to defend against natural hazards. Even in areas where we’ve already urbanized, it’s not too late to reclaim green space and reduce the risk of flooding in our cities.” If you are curious about nature-based solutions and want to learn more about how they can be beneficial to your own community, check out this comprehensive document compiled by AECOM and The Nature Conservancy.

Building Flood Risk Awareness Through Outreach

Communication and building awareness were key themes in many of the presentations presented at the conference. It can be difficult to translate floodplain information for the general public, which can in turn create challenges for education and outreach. This comes to a head when residents are told that they are living in a floodplain and have to modify their homes to be in compliance with local regulations, but are left without the knowledge and resources to begin that process.

Panelists Lee von Gynz-Guethle of WEST consultants, Tyler Payne of the Texas General Land Office, Keri Stephens from UT Austin, Marcus Baskin of Harris County Engineering Department, and Samuel Brody from Texas A&M Institute for Disaster Research discussed existing gaps in successfully communicating floodplain management awareness to residents. The challenges in flood risk communication were brought to light with a higher frequency in flood disasters in Texas, many of which stem from residents not being adequately prepared. Conclusions that arose from this conversation focused on the importance of social media and news media to broadcast information and empower residents to make the necessary changes within their communities.

Marcus Baskin, a Division Manager at the Harris County Engineering Department, discussed his belief that flood risk communication should begin with identifying trusted community leaders and equipping them with the tools to effectively educate their community. Baskin spoke with us after the conference to further explain some of the pain points that exist in Harris County. “We are coming into these communities with educated engineering data and solutions that we believe will help, but what we can miss sometimes is the past history, culture and insight actual residents want to see to gain our trust and comprehension.” After Hurricane Harvey, the County approved a historic $2.5 billion flood bond. To properly administer the funding, Baskin’s team doubled down on its planning and outreach efforts. Once the bond vote was approved, his team spent 6-8 months identifying, planning, and visiting 80+ communities in the County to inform residents of its individual community implications. With a team of mostly engineers, Baskin found that much of their communication efforts were lost in translation when approached in a technical manner. This meant continuing to research clubs, community centers, and alliances to learn about cultural and societal aspects that inform the best way to approach disseminating flood risk mitigation information. He emphasizes that it is crucial for government officials to act as a support system by addressing community needs individually as opposed to creating a blanket system that may contribute to an unequal distribution of resources.

Updates in Texas Communities:

Reem Zoun, Director of Flood Planning at the Texas Water Development and Ataul Hannan, Program Manager at the Harris County Flood Control District, provided state and regional planning updates to address flood mitigation practices. Since 2019, legislative action by the state of Texas has contributed to increased urgency in addressing risk mitigation efforts—  Texas Water Code Sections 16.061 and 16.062 enforce the enactment of a comprehensive state plan by 2024 that will guide local governments in achieving long-term resilience. The state-wide and regional flood plans will “identify flood risk and recommend evaluation needs, strategies, and projects within regions.” As it is a first-of-its kind statewide flood plan, the work being done by the Texas Water Development Board is important to keep an eye on.

Ataul Hannan’s presentation, Flood Mitigation Planning in Harris County to Achieve Resilience, delved into the challenges that the City of Houston has faced since Hurricane Harvey. After passing more restrictive floodplain management standards in 2018 and the approval of $2.5 billion in bonds to fund flood mitigation strategies, Houston’s growing urban landscape has forced the City to address how flood mitigation practices can be employed without hurting the thriving, and consistently growing, population. Mr. Hannan spoke about how outreach and communication have been vital in this process. Paresh Lad of the Houston Public Work and Z. Gao Lee of Jones|Carter later presented on a developing project in the City of Houston to “incorporate stormwater mitigation strategies” in city parks. Check out the Houston Public Works website to learn more about what they are working on.

Elevation Certificate Error Detection:

Forerunner’s co-founder Susanna Pho had the opportunity to end the conference with a presentation on Elevation Certificates and how product research has shaped the functionality of Forerunner’s Elevation Certificate Error Detection Feature. Elevation certificates are important elements in floodplain management—their accuracy is crucial in ensuring that communities remain in the Community Rating System (CRS) program but it can be difficult to stay on top of document review. The EC Error Detection feature addresses this challenge by providing a second set of eyes in checking for compliance and completeness. Since its launch, the feature has been widely adopted as an integral part of the EC checking process by our users, who now have the ability to catch mistakes at a higher rate. As Susanna noted in her presentation, “Floodplain managers are often juggling multiple responsibilities and shouldn’t be impeded by EC checking. The feature helps our users do much more with fewer resources.” As a Forerunner partner serving Texas’ most populated county, the Harris County Engineering Department’s use of the EC Error Detection has been a success since its implementation. The County’s EC reviewers used Forerunner to review over 1,000 Elevation Certificates in anticipation for their yearly CRS recertification visit.. Darrell Hahn, Manager of Permit Operations for Harris County explained to us what that meant for the county: “The last CRS visit we had–before Forerunner–it took us three tries to get the minimum required elevation certificate correctness.” After implementing Forerunner, Harris County was able to pass their elevation certificate check on the first review. If you’re interested in learning more about our EC Error Detection feature, we’d love to chat! You can get in touch here. We are excited to continue our collaboration with the Harris County Engineering Department to improve our software and make meaningful improvements in floodplain management and permitting workflows.

Having the opportunity to meet our users in person and engage with new communities enables us to better understand how we can grow Forerunner to meet the needs of our partners. We’re looking forward to attending the LFMA Annual Conference in Baton Rouge in a couple weeks!

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