Climate and Flooding Project: Supporting Flood Planning in the Mountain West Region in the Context of Climate Change Impact, Future Growth and Migration

Start Date

Primary Investigators
Lisa Dilling
M. Carmen-Lemos
S. Hughes
D. Van Berkel (GLISA)
Other Investigators
L. Woelder
L. Payton
B. Duncan

Geographic Region

Communities with high flooding risk in the WWA and GLISA regions

Flooding is the second deadliest weather-related hazard in the US and one of the most pressing issues for small and mid-sized cities in the Mountain West region. Climate change is projected to worsen flood impacts on cities in the coming decades. Flooding from extreme events in small and mid-sized cities can create long-lasting, damaging impacts to the economy, livelihoods and integrity of these towns. In the Mountain West region, the dual factors of increasing population growth and the high cost of housing in urban centers are putting pressure on cities to build new infrastructure, commercial real estate, or housing in higher risk locations—often in floodplains— because they may be the last remaining urban space that can accommodate development. 

Yet, there has been relatively limited understanding of the interplay between population shifts (i.e. growth, decline, and stagnation), economic growth, policy governance, equity, and climate impact -- especially flooding -- in small and mid-sized cities in the Mountain West. These communities face difficult choices about how to shape their urban form to best manage flood risk in a changing climate. In addition, outdated design standards, lack of capacity to mitigate climate-related risks, and slow economic recovery pose a new set of challenges to these cities in the short and long-term.

WWA is collaborating with a partner RISA program, the Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments(GLISA), to conduct pilot work to test and co-develop a usable, spatially-explicit model of urban development in the context of flood patterns and existing socio-political variables for small and mid-sized cities across our two regions. Our overarching goal is to provide a tool that will help urban decision makers in small and mid-sized communities to make better informed decisions and consider tradeoffs in the face of changing demographics, patterns of socio-economic growth, and flood risk. The project will include modeling and data analysis, and workshops with communities in the Mountain West and Great Lakes regions.

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