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New study highlights flood risks in our growing cities

As city sprawl continues to spread across the state, flooding is set to become more of a threat if mitigating measures aren’t taken
Published: Apr. 16, 2022 at 7:31 PM EDT
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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - As the population continues to boom in North Carolina, our cities are growing. The growth comes in two forms, vertically (higher density apartments, parking garages, etc.) and horizontally (roads, parking lots, strip malls, suburbs). The destruction of forest and, more specifically, permeable surfaces has lead to an increased threat of flooding in our urban areas.

Cars remain stranded along a flooded section of Interstate 45 after heavy rains overnight in...
Cars remain stranded along a flooded section of Interstate 45 after heavy rains overnight in Houston, Tuesday, May 26, 2015. Several major highways are closed in the Houston area due to high water. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)(David J. Phillip | AP)

A new study by a Portland State University research team looks at this urban flood risk and who is benefitting from investments made by city governments. In order to mitigate the increased threat of urban flooding, introduction of green infrastructure is a common practice. These can be parks, flower beds, swales, rain gardens, or just general tree cover. According to the study’s lead author, Arun Pallathadka, a Ph.D. student in the Earth, Environment and Society program at Portland State, the team found that the placement of green infrastructure in [Portland, Phoenix and Atlanta] inconsistently overlapped with areas prone to rainwater flooding, and non-white and low-income populations were more vulnerable to flood risk.

Flooding is the costliest natural hazard, but when we talk about flooding, the focus is often on the floodplain, on rivers. But with climate change, we’re expecting an increase in flooding associated with rainfall events.

Arun Pallathadka, a Ph.D. student in the Earth, Environment and Society program at Portland State and lead author of the study

Both Portland and Phoenix had increased community investment in green infrastructure, specifically in neighborhoods with higher populations of non-white and low-income residents. While the risk of flooding from rainwater for non-white and low-income residents was low, there was a substantial disparity in green infrastructure investment when compared to the other cities. For more information on this study, you can go here.

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