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Report: Local Governments Should Buy More Flood-Prone Land

Minnesota officials say more flood damage is occurring beyond the typical mapped high-risk areas, resulting in more property damage. (ci.austin.mn.gov)
Minnesota officials say more flood damage is occurring beyond the typical mapped high-risk areas, resulting in more property damage. (ci.austin.mn.gov)
December 20, 2019

ST. PAUL, Minn. - A new report says local governments in Minnesota and elsewhere should be more proactive in buying up undeveloped flood-prone land. Researchers say that would be more cost effective than spending money on flood recovery.

The study was co-authored by The Nature Conservancy in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. The group's Deputy Director of Agriculture Kris Johnson says while there have been flood mitigation efforts at various levels of government, more needs to be done.

"The way in which we deal with our disasters, all too often, is that we pay for them after the fact," says Johnson. "We fund mostly recovery and sort-of rebuild efforts."

The report says in the U.S. flooding is now the most expensive form of disaster, and these events cost an average of $8 billion a year. Even though it would cost more than $300 billion to buy all the land the report identifies, the authors say it would still save taxpayers more money in the long run.

In addition to protecting homes and businesses, Johnson says preserving these flood-prone areas is vital for natural habitats. He says there can be an ecological benefit to flooding that is surprising to some.

"There are, you know, critical, unique places in between land and water," says Johnson, "where the sort of ebb and flow of water and that dynamic - of flooding happening and then receding - creates unique habitat for all kinds of different species."

The report also says as populations grow, developers and local governments are relying on official flood maps that are often incomplete or out of date - and local development decisions don't always give enough consideration to future flood risks.

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, rainfall events of more than three inches have increased 65% since the year 2000.

Disclosure: The Nature Conservancy in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Environment, Sustainable Agriculture, Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN