A Helping Hand in the Search for a Solution to Flooding
As the threat of a changing climate becomes a new reality, municipalities along the Delaware River are seeing the effects close to home: intense downpours that can flood streets and homes, inundate sewers, clog waterways with sediment, and even claim lives. And with floods only expected to worsen — one model from Shippensburg University predicts a 66 percent increase by 2090 — communities are searching for effective solutions.
As a leader within the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, the Open Space Institute (OSI) is addressing this growing threat through its Watershed Catalyst Program. The program is at the forefront of efforts to support regional and local planning that harnesses watershed science, with the goal of enhancing one of the most effective defenses against flooding: targeted land conservation.
A growing body of research proves that floodplains and wetlands are highly effective in curbing the effects of intense rain events – acting as natural sponges and braking fast-moving floodwaters.
Putting this research into action, OSI grantee New Jersey Future (NJF) embarked on a pilot project that aims to help municipalities throughout the state take advantage of a voluntary incentive program of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), called the Community Rating System (CRS). CRS rewards communities for taking proactive steps to increase flood resilience with discounts for homeowners on federal flood insurance. Despite being hailed as a mechanism to help municipalities realize the benefits of better floodplain management, the cumbersome application process has limited the ability of some communities to participate.
“Many communities see the benefit of enrolling in the CRS program, but because an average application takes 18 months and hundreds of hours of staff time, they can’t always marshal the time and resources to apply,” said Tanya Rohrbach, NJF Community Planning Manager. “OSI’s Watershed Catalyst grant gave us the funding to step in and start to develop a replicable solution.”
A New Approach for Medford
Medford, New Jersey, a township of 23,000 residents located just 40 minutes east of downtown Philadelphia, has long been plagued by flooding. In 2004, a storm dumped nearly 14 inches of rain, inundating the nearby Rancocas Creek and resulting in multiple dam failures and significant property damage.