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Floodplain managers, planners visualize future flooding impacts

By: Tracie Sempier / Published: Sep 19,  2016

Suppose the City of Biloxi’s population doubled and you had to determine where to locate new infrastructure and housing to accommodate another 40,000+ people. That’s what participants of the Gulf Coast Community Flood Resilience Workshop were asked to do in just an hour and a half.

Working in teams, the Sept. 8 workshop attendees used “virtual paints” to select areas for future growth. They were equipped with specific land-use options that simulate various development types and density arrangements. Luckily, they were also introduced to a participatory mapping tool known as the CHARM (Community Health and Resource Management) model to assist them with this monumental task.

CHARM is a user-friendly mapping tool that allows decision makers to create complex scenarios and display dynamic real time results to display a variety of possible impacts. The exercise was part of a larger workshop focusing on the No Adverse Impact Principles established by the Association of State Floodplain Managers. No Adverse Impact, known as NAI, is a managing principle that is built on the philosophy of reducing flood damage. NAI takes place when the actions of one property owner is not allowed to adversely impact the rights of other property owners. According to ASFPM, “the adverse effects or impacts can be measured in terms of increased flood peaks, increased flood stages, higher flood velocities, increased erosion and sedimentation or other impacts the community considers important.”

The workshop was hosted as a partnership between the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, Association of State Floodplain Managers, City of Biloxi, Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, and Texas Sea Grant with funding from FEMA.

Participant Rick Stickler, floodplain manager for the City of Biloxi, suggests where new development might be placed to minimize impacts to the floodplain. (Photo by Steven Mikulencak/Texas Sea Grant)
Participant Rick Stickler, floodplain manager for the City of Biloxi, suggests where new development might be placed to minimize impacts to the floodplain. (Photo by Steven Mikulencak/Texas Sea Grant)

During the workshop, participants were introduced to tools that reduce flood risk and approaches that implement natural and beneficial functions of the floodplain by planning and managing for future conditions. They learned about legal and policy frameworks that underlie and guide the NAI approach to coastal resource management and its relationship with Gulf Coast watersheds and climate impacts. The workshop focused on three current issues including living shorelines, low-impact development and higher regulatory standards.

At the end of a productive day, all three groups had successfully “painted” new development for the City of Biloxi to increase the population by 100 percent. They also ran scenarios to see how the newly developed areas might be impacted during a Category 1-5 hurricane or an increase in sea-level rise. Their results gave them real-time feedback about the decisions they were making during the exercise.

After just an hour and a half, the complexity of these planning decisions and who should be at the table during the process was becoming very apparent. Participants walked away with a deeper appreciation of the challenges associated with future land-use decisions and the importance of a NAI approach.

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