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Socio-economic and ecological trade-offs of flood management

Karl Auerswald, Peter Moyle, Simon Paul Seibert, Juergen Geist | February 20th, 2019

In light of climate change and growing numbers of people inhabiting riverine floodplains, worldwide demand for flood protection is increasing, typically through engineering approaches such as more and bigger levees. However, the well-documented “levee effect” of increased floodplain use following levee construction or enhancement often results in increased problems, especially when levees fail or are compromised by big flood events. Herein, we argue that there are also unintended socio-economic and ecological consequences of traditional engineering solutions that need to be better considered, communicated and weighed against alternative solutions. Socio-economic consequences include reduced aesthetic and recreational values as well as increased downstream flooding risk and reduced ecosystem services. Ecological consequences include hydraulic decoupling, loss of biodiversity and increased risk of contamination during flooding. In addition, beyond river losses of connectivity and natural riparian vegetation created by levees, changes in groundwater levels and increased greenhouse gas emissions are likely. Because flood protection requires huge financial investments and results in major and persistent changes to the landscape, more balanced decisions that involve all stakeholders and policymakers should be made in the future. This requires a transdisciplinary approach that considers alternative solutions such as green infrastructure and places emphasis on integrated flood management rather than on reliance on technical protection measures.


flood management, floodplain restoration, risk assessment

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