Should Communities Rebuild As Before in High-Risk Flood Areas?

Maryland is a high-risk state for flooding given its numerous waterways and many low-lying land areas.  Additionally, as previously reported by Conduit Street, a recently released report urges Maryland and its local governments to plan for a 2-foot sea level rise by 2050.  Given these factors, many communities in Maryland must consider whether to rebuild in areas that have been subject to flooding and may see increased flooding in the future.  A July 11 New York Times article discusses the similar debate that occurred in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, after that city was subjected to record flooding.  From the article:

Five years after record flooding drowned this manufacturing town and caused billions of dollars in damage, city officials and private investors are rebuilding homes and businesses on the Cedar River banks. But some people here are troubled to see structures rising in places where, not long ago, entire first stories were underwater.  …

Floods have become more expensive disasters with persistent development along waterfronts. Since 2000, floods in the United States have done nearly $10 billion in damage each year, almost twice as much as in the 1990s, according to a report released in March by the Association of State Floodplain Managers.

When floods wipe out an urban area, city officials tend to favor quick redevelopment to prevent irreparable economic harm, especially in this part of the country. Small cities already face challenges in keeping their residents, especially young people, from moving away.

But there is a growing chorus of conservationists and public officials who say that some land, no matter how prime it is for real estate, might be best returned to nature. They argue that it makes little sense to rebuild in flood-prone areas that will require taxpayer bailouts when the water rises again. Flooding in urban areas can send pollution downstream, and artificial protection built around cities only shifts the flooding farther down.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources has formed a Climate Change and Coast Smart Construction Working Group to examine building practices in areas subject to flooding.