Abstract

Between 1972 and 1994, the US Army Corps of Engineers undertook five studies in New England evaluating the benefits and costs of protecting natural valley storage (NVS) areas—natural reservoirs—for flood mitigation. Only along the Charles River did benefits outweigh costs. Analysis of the studies finds that the costs of large-scale land acquisition will often exceed the sole benefits of avoided flood damages. To generate net benefits, there must be significant amounts of NVS lands still undeveloped, development pressure on those lands, and downstream areas that would sustain large damages. The NVS studies also raised questions of whether the Corps should be involved in land acquisition, and whether regulating land use could substitute for purchasing land. Note, these findings do not apply to other forms of natural flood-risk reduction, such as levee setbacks, green infrastructure for stormwater management, and multi-purpose projects, which have different economic and institutional contexts.

Notes

1.

In addition, interest has been growing in so-called green infrastructure, a term that largely refers to land use changes designed to increase infiltration of stormwater. This paper focuses on managing large riverine flood events, not managing stormwater, although there could be overlaps in the policies and approaches.

2.

Personal communication with the chief of the Planning Branch of the New England Division of the Corps of Engineers indicates that no natural storage projects have been undertaken since the Charles River case. However, the Corps has used other nonstructural approaches to flood-risk reduction.

3.

A report for the Charles River case highlighted three related, but slightly different, criteria for NVS preservation to be recommended as the preferred alternative: (1) extensive NVS still in existence, (2) currently only minor flood damage, and (3) an imminent threat to the loss of NVS (New England Division of the Corps of Engineers, 1976a).

4.

Or for restoration projects, which would similarly be adding new protection.

5.

Also of note, if a much lower discount rate had been used, this also would make the benefits greater than costs in the Spicket case, again highlighting the important role of the choice of a discount rate in long-lived projects.

6.

The report presented details on the assumptions for each river reach.

7.

For example, in 2013, FEMA issued mitigation policy FP-108-024-01, which allowed for inclusion of environmental benefits in benefit-cost analysis of property acquisition projects (buyouts).

8.

An economic analysis of a greenway along a river in St. Louis County, Missouri found that avoided flood damages alone did not exceed the opportunity costs of land acquisition, but when other benefits were included, the total benefits exceeded costs (Kousky & Walls, 2014).

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.

References

Barham, E. (2001). Ecological boundaries as community boundaries: The politics of watersheds. Society & Natural Resources: An International Journal, 14(3), 181–191. doi:10.1080/08941920119376
Buss, L. S. (2005). Nonstructural flood damage reduction within the U.S. army corps of engineers. Journal of Contemporary Water Research & Education, 130(1), 26–30. doi: 10.1111/j.1936-704X.2005.mp130001005.x
Carter, N. T., & Stern, C. V. (2011). Army corps of engineers water resources projects: Authorization and appropriations. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.
Chandler, J. P., & Doyle, A. F. (1978). An alliance with nature. Water Spectrum, 10(Summer), 24–30.
Cheney, P. B. (1974). The formulation and evaluation of specific alternatives for flood plain and flood damage management: A report to the new england river basins commission, connecticut river basin program, supplemental flood management study. Washington, DC: Cheney, Miller, Ellis and Associates.
De Laney, T. A. (1995). Benefits to downstream flood attenuation and water quality as a result of constructed wetlands in agricultural landscapes. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, 50(6), 620–626.
Environmental Protection Agency. (2006). Wetlands: Protecting life and property from flooding. Washington, DC: United States Environmental Protection Agency Office of Water.
Galloway, G. E. (2005). Corps of engineers responses to the changing national approach to floodplain management since the 1993 midwest flood. Journal of Contemporary Water Research & Education, 130, 5–12. doi:10.1111/j.1936-704X.2005.mp130001002.x
Heal, G., Daily, G. C., Ehrlich, P. R., Salzman, J., Boggs, C., Hellmann, J., Hughes, J., Kremen, C., & Rickets, T. (2001). Protecting natural capital through ecosystem service districts. Stanford Environmental Law Journal, 20, 333–364.
Kousky, C. (2010). Using natural capital to reduce disaster risk. Journal of Natural Resources Policy Research, 2(4), 343–356. doi:10.1080/19390459.2010.511451
Kousky, C., & Walls, M. (2014). Floodplain conservation as a flood mitigation strategy: Examining costs and benefits. Ecological Economics, 104, 119–128. doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2014.05.001
Kousky, C., & Zeckhauser, R. (2006). JARring Actions that Fuel the Floods. In R. J. Daniels, D. F. Kettle, & H. Kunreuther (Eds.), On risk and disaster: Lessons from hurricane katrina (pp. 59–73). Phildelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Landy, M. (2008). Mega-disasters and federalism. Public Administration Review, 68, S186–S198. doi:10.1111/j.1540-6210.2008.00988.x
Larson, W. M., & Dingman, S. L. (1981). The potential for flood-damage reduction through preservation of natural valley storage in the piscataqua river basin. Durham: University of New Hampshire.
Merz, B., Kreibich, H., Thieken, A., & Schmidtke, R. (2004). Estimation uncertainty of direct monetary flood damage to buildings. Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences, 4, 153–163. doi:10.5194/nhess-4-153-2004
Murray, B. C., Sohngen, B., & Ross, M. T. (2007). Economic consequences of consideration of permanence, leakage, and additionality for soil carbon sequestration projects. Climatic Change, 80(1–2), 127–143. doi:10.1007/s10584-006-9169-4
National Research Council. (1999). New Directions in Water Resources Planning for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Washington, DC: Committee to Assess the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Water Resources Project Planning Procedures.
New England Division of the Corps of Engineers. (1972). Charles river, massachusetts: Main report and attachments. Waltham, MA: Department of the Army, New England Division, Corps of Engineers.
New England Division of the Corps of Engineers. (1976a). Water resources development plan: Charles river watershed, massachusetts. Waltham, MA: Department of the Army, New England Division, Corps of Engineers.
New England Division of the Corps of Engineers. (1976b). Water resources development plan: Charles river watershed, natural valley storage project, design memorandum no. 2, phase I–phase II combined, general description. Waltham, MA: Department of the Army, New England Division, Corps of Engineers.
New England Division of the Corps of Engineers. (1976c). Water resources development plan: Charles river watershed, natural valley storage areas project, massachusetts, design memorandum no. 3, real estate. Waltham, MA: Department of the Army, New England Division, Corps of Engineers.
New England Division of the Corps of Engineers. (1978a). Assessment of the flood problems of the taunton river basin in massachusetts. Waltham, MA: Department of the Army, New England Division, Corps of Engineers.
New England Division of the Corps of Engineers. (1978b). Natural valley storage: A partnership with nature. Public Information Fact Sheet. Waltham, MA: Department of the Army, New England Division, Corps of Engineers.
New England Division of the Corps of Engineers. (1979). Neponset river basin flood plain management study: Reconnaissance report. Waltham, MA: Department of the Army, New England Division, Corps of Engineers.
New England Division of the Corps of Engineers. (1982). Neponset river basin, massachusetts, flood plain management study: Water resources investigation review draft. Waltham, MA: Department of the Army, New England Division, Corps of Engineers.
New England Division of the Corps of Engineers. (1990). Spicket river basin study: General investigation study, spicket river basin, massachusetts and new hampshire. Waltham, MA: Department of the Army, New England Division, Corps of Engineers.
New England Division of the Corps of Engineers. (1993). Massachusetts natural valley storage investigation: Section 22 study. Waltham, MA: US Army Corps of Engineers and Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Executive Office of Environmental Affairs.
New England Division of the Corps of Engineers. (1994). Water resources study reconnaissance report: Connecticut river basin natural valley storage: connecticut, massachusetts, new hampshire and vermont. Waltham, MA: Department of the Army, New England Division, Corps of Engineers.
Opperman, J. J., Galloway, G. E., Fargione, J., Mount, J. F., Richter, B. D., & Secchi, S. (2009). Sustainable floodplains through large-scale reconnection to rivers. Science, 326(5959), 1487–1488. doi:10.1126/science.1178256
Platt, R. H., & McMullen, G. M. (1979). Fragmentation of public authority over floodplains: The charles river case. Amherst: Water Resources Research Center, University of Massachusetts.
Platt, R. H., Salvesen, D., & Baldwin, G. H. B. (2002). Rebuilding the North Carolina coast after hurricane fran: Did public regulations matter? Coastal Management, 30, 249–269. doi:10.1080/08920750290042192
Potter, K. W. (1994). Estimating potential reduction flood benefits of restored wetlands. Water Resources Update, 97(Autumn), 34–38.
Powers, K. (2003). Benefit–cost analysis and the discount rate for the corps of engineers' water resource projects: Theory and practice. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.
Shabman, L. A. 1972. Decision Making in Water Resource Investment and the Potential of Multi-Objective Planning: The Case of the Army Corps of Engineers (Technical Report 42). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Water Resources and Marine Sciences Center.
Shabman, L., & Scodari, P. 2012. Towards Integrated Water Reesources Management: A Conceptual Framework for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Water and Related Land Resources Implementation Studies, Institute for Water Resources.
Valderrama, A., Levine, L., bloomgarden, E., Bayon, R., Wachowicz, K., & Kaiser, C. (2013). Creating clean water cash flows: Developming private markets for green stormwater infrastructure in philadelphia. Washington, DC: Natural Resources Defense Council.
Wunder, S. (2007). The efficiency of payments for environmental services in tropical conservation. Conservation Biology, 21(1), 48–58. doi:10.1111/j.1523-1739.2006.00559.x