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By DALLAS ALLEY, CERTIFIED FLOODPLAIN MANAGER
Director of Land Use and Development
The devastation of Hurricane Ida, along with numerous flooding and severe weather events across Illinois this year, come as a painful reminder that communities must be proactive in planning, responding and building for a future with more risk.
Flooding has now outpaced other natural disasters as the most common and costliest we face. Our communities see ruined homes, shuttered businesses, impassable roads and highways, and disruptions to supply chains. In many cases, as we saw with Hurricane Ida, tens of thousands are displaced and many families are now tragically faced with the loss of loved ones.
As a certified floodplain manager serving in multiple Illinois communities, I’ve seen the devastation that flooding can cause, but also the solutions that communities are driven to achieve. That is why it is important the U.S. Senate recently took action to lessen the economic and recovery impacts of flood disasters by passing the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
This bipartisan legislation, which now sits in the House of Representatives waiting for consideration, makes a historic commitment toward improving the ability of the nation’s infrastructure, such as its roads and bridges, to withstand flooding while also supporting state and community programs designed to improve local flood resilience.
There are a number of critical programs in this legislation that would benefit our state. For one, the creation of a new $8.7 billion transportation resilience grant program to support state and community actions that reduce the vulnerability of roads, bridges, and other transportation assets to natural disasters. It’s a fiscally smart proposal, because it’s cheaper to build infrastructure right the first time instead of constantly repairing damages after the fact. It also helps keep our businesses, schools and homes protected.
Another common sense way for our federal government to help address the devastating impacts of flooding is to put decision making back in the hands of the people who know what they need best: local communities. That’s why I’m heartened to see another smart provision in the infrastructure bill would create incentives for states and metropolitan planning organizations to address future risk in long-term transportation plans.
The Senate legislation also incorporates nature-based solutions for improving resilience to flood-related disasters. As communities experience stronger storms and more rainfall, we are seeing a rise in erosion, overwhelmed storm sewers, and waterways filled beyond capacity. Nature-based solutions, things like raingardens, bioswales, wetlands, and living shorelines, are often cheaper to implement and repair, and are just as impactful toward reducing flooding than hardened infrastructure such as steel and concrete bulkheads. Nature-based solutions also increase a community’s biodiversity and natural beauty.
Lastly, an area of deep concern are homes that repeatedly flood. These risky homes put people in harm’s way, challenge our first responders in charge of rescue, and in the end cost all of us because we all pay for recovery through our taxes. That’s why the Senate legislation includes an additional $4.5 billion in FEMA disaster mitigation programs to support local efforts to help residents move into safer homes and fund other flood prevention measures like flood proofing basements, building higher floodwalls, and right-sizing storm sewers.
Ultimately we need to remember that the infrastructure we build today needs to last into the next century – and that means it has to be built to withstand a future of worsening weather. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by the U.S. Senate makes meaningful progress toward better preparing communities and infrastructure for these threats by integrating disaster mitigation into the building blocks of both new and existing federal programs. It’s a cost-effective approach that will save lives and property.
Illinois would be well served if our Congressional delegation, Republicans and Democrats alike, step up and support this legislation to ensure communities better are prepared as flooding becomes a bigger challenge.
■ Dallas Alley, CFM, is the Director of Land Use And Development for the City of Fairview Heights, IL and recipient of the 2015 Illinois Floodplain Manager of the Year Award