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Utilizing Comprehensive Plans to Bring Awareness to Flood Risk

Challenge

Comprehensive plans are required by the State of Nebraska to provide objectives, goals, and policies for and by the community. The objective of a comprehensive plan is to act as a visionary document which aligns zoning ordinances with community practices in development with consideration to social, economic and environmental factors specific to the community. Despite their comprehensive nature, these plans often mention flooding but do not expand upon it to motivate communities to start thinking about flooding, zoning and the ramifications of development before people buy property or develop in high-risk areas.

Solution

To understand the extent of this gap in flood risk information, the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources (NDR) started a Comprehensive Plans and Flooding project. NDR read through 55 plans from across Nebraska and evaluated them by their factual base, goals, actions, and policies as they relate to flood risk. A “plan score” with a maximum 60 possible points was created and compared with a variety of community factors.

The evaluations comprised of 11 indicators on Factual Base including delineation of floodplains, buildings subject to flooding, and future land use shown with floodplains. The evaluations also included 11 indicators on Goals including reduce damage, preserve flood risk areas for open space, and limit development to outside of a floodplain. Thirty-eight additional indicators on Actions and Policies including cluster development, acquisition programs, critical facility protection, and recreation areas in floodplains were also included.

Outcome

Evaluation of the community factors resulted in the following:

Factual Base

  • 75% of plans include a flood hazard map, and only 25% show it on the future land use map.
  • 26% include a history of flooding.
  • 20% include the area of the community in the floodplain.
  • All information is available in the Hazard Mitigation Plan.

Goals

  • 50% of plans have a goal to preserve flood risk areas for open space or recreation.
  • 17% of plans have a goal to preserve natural floodplain functions.
  • Just 4% have any goal to reduce damage to existing residential, commercial, or industrial development.

Policies and Actions

  •  45% of plans recommend a policy to discourage new development in flood risk areas.
  • 26% of plans suggest cluster developments, but 4% address it in the context of flood risk.
  • 55% of plans recommend policies for stormwater management.
  • Just 4% of plans recommend policies to protect critical facilities.
  • Except for cluster developments, very few plans recommend any other regulatory or incentive-type program to reduce future flood risk.
  • Very few plans recommend any policies for public facilities or transportation infrastructure and flood risk.          

As a result of this analysis, “Comprehensive Plans and Flood Risk: A Resource Guide for Nebraska Communities” (Resource Guide) was developed to provide communities with information and approaches for integrating flood risk information into their comprehensive plans through collaborative approaches. The Resource Guide provides practical knowledge for how to:

  • Incorporate flood risk information using data and facts;
  • Set goals surrounding flood risk reduction through stakeholder engagement; and
  • Develop diverse actions and policies ranging from regulatory measures to emergency preparedness to incentives.

Benefit

The Resource Guide provides an informative “how-to” for improving integration of flood risk information and hazard mitigation planning into comprehensive plans. Communities can understand how a comprehensive plan can foster proactive, preventative and holistic development practices. They can also learn how to protect existing structures by incorporating flood risk into the zoning, land use, and development decision-making processes.

Establishing goals, policies, and actions that acknowledge the flooding risks, in collaboration with communities and stakeholders, creates potential for smart growth development and greater risk awareness. The ultimate benefit of these practices leads to action that reduces risk and disruption to daily lives.

Risk MAP Phases

This project involved the following Risk MAP phases:

  • Discovery
  • Risk Awareness and Mitigation Outreach
  • NFIP Map Changes and Impacts
  • Resilience

Risk MAP Goals Advanced

The Risk MAP goals that were advanced through this project included:

  • Advancing Action
  • Identifying Action
  • Increasing Awareness

Lessons Learned

The key lesson from this project is that comprehensive plans in Nebraska have room for improvement in incorporating the safety of citizens and natural hazards in long-term plans. Except for cluster developments, very few plans recommended any other regulatory or incentive-type program to reduce future flood risk. NDR’s analysis brought to light that very few plans recommended any policies toward public facilities or transportation infrastructure and flood risk.

Resources

“Comprehensive Plans and Flood Risk: A Resource Guide for Nebraska Communities” is available here.

Graphic
Cover of Comprehensive Plans and Flood Risk resource guide.
Cover of Comprehensive Plans and Flood Risk resource guide.
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Last updated May 11, 2021