After decades of major flood disasters—and projections for increases in rainfall, coastal flooding, and population—North Carolina is exploring ways to lower its flood risk. Among potentially effective solutions are nature-based stormwater-management strategies such as permeable pavement and bioswales, which absorb runoff. That’s a major issue in the state, where development has led to a rise in impervious surface areas, such as asphalt and concrete, that often contribute to flooding because they prevent rain from infiltrating the ground.
To help address North Carolina’s flood risk, The Pew Charitable Trusts and the North Carolina Coastal Federation, a coastal protection and recovery organization, have organized a year-long stakeholder engagement process to encourage the application of nature-based solutions across the state. A March 25 virtual kickoff meeting of the initiative, Advancing Nature-based Stormwater Strategies in North Carolina, brought together academic experts, developers, investors, engineers, landscape architects, state officials, conservation organizations, and others to discuss their experiences with these mitigation practices.
Such strategies allow stormwater to filter into the ground. These approaches can be used on roads, agricultural and forest land, and residential or commercial sites, reducing runoff by 48% to 99%, according to several case studies.
“The state has come a long way in encouraging nature-based stormwater practices, but this group will help to increase their application wherever we can to reduce flooding and protect water quality,” Todd Miller, executive director of the North Carolina Coastal Federation, said during the March 25 working group meeting. Over the course of the year, the participants will work in groups to develop practical, consensus-driven recommendations in four areas: new residential and commercial growth, retrofits to existing development, transportation infrastructure, and land use management. The recommendations will be shared with the governor’s office, relevant state agencies, local governments, and businesses to support expanded use of nature-based stormwater strategies.
In a statement to meeting attendees, North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Michael Regan said: “The work you are doing is critical to our state’s success. As we implement the statewide Risk and Resilience Plan under Governor Roy Cooper’s Executive Order 80 on climate change, we look forward to your input on how these practices can help make North Carolina more resilient.”
Local projects are paying off
The benefits of these strategies are already being harnessed by communities, developers, and investors in the state. River Bluffs, a 300-acre development near Wilmington, uses pervious pavements, living shorelines, and preserved green spaces to capture stormwater. The project developer, Burrows Smith, said he has saved about $2 million by not installing curbing and by using natural areas as filtration basins.
Other communities across the country are also using nature-based solutions to reduce flood risk and associated damage and costs. The Clean Water Partnership in Prince George’s County, Maryland, is retrofitting 2,000 acres of impervious surfaces to reduce stormwater runoff from all but the most extreme storm events.
The ultimate goal of the working group, which will issue its recommendations this winter, is to help the state, local governments, and businesses increase flood resilience and better contribute to a thriving statewide economy.
Yaron Miller is an officer with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ flood-prepared communities initiative.