Building American infrastructure for a 21st century climate


Turkey Creek wastewater treatment plant in Houston, Texas, flooded by Hurricane Harvey. Credit: Spring Branch Management District

President Biden presented a bold plan to invest in our nation’s future, a plan that aims to correct the racial inequalities of the past and address the climate crisis we face. As we make the investments that are essential to foster a healthy and prosperous future, we must ensure that public infrastructure, including our roads, hospitals, schools and other assets, is designed and built for the climate of the century. President Biden said that “[e]very few dollars spent to rebuild our infrastructure during the Biden administration will be used to prevent, reduce and resist the impacts of the climate crisis. ”

Requiring a high standard of flood protection and the application of the latest building codes for any federal infrastructure investment will help ensure those investments are safe for the people and communities that will depend on them.

Flood protection standard

As the seas rise and rainstorms become more extreme, the time has come to demand that all federally funded infrastructure be prepared for the floods of the future. Decree 13690 and the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard must be reinstated.

Flooding is the most common and costly natural hazard in the United States. Since 2000, flood-related disasters in the United States have accounted for more than $ 800 billion in losses. Communities are already struggling to maintain old and inadequate infrastructure. Floods exacerbated by climate change will only prolong this trend. For example, wastewater systems are very sensitive to flooding as they are usually located in low areas for collection and discharge. If sea level rises between three and six feet, 10.4 million to 31.6 million Americans could lose sanitation services due to the associated increase in coastal flooding. This amount is equivalent to more than five times the number of people whose homes would be directly flooded.

Site selection and infrastructure design based on expected future conditions can reduce exposure and vulnerability. For example, we typically design and lay out buildings based on the magnitude of the 100-year flood (a flood that we believe has a 1% chance of occurring). However, this standard is set on the basis of historical information and may not reflect the current flood risk, certainly not the risk decades from now. Continuing to build or rebuild federally funded infrastructure up to the 100-year flood level could adversely affect the longevity of the lifespan of that infrastructure. In contrast, raising or flooding structures several feet above the height of the 100-year flood level is a proven strategy to reduce flood damage.

Executive Order 13690 and the FFRMS had ordered all federal agencies to use more protective design and layout requirements for infrastructure projects that receive federal funding, such as affordable housing, hospitals, and health facilities. emergency response. Projects should be located outside low-lying areas vulnerable to flooding where possible or, if this was not possible, buildings and facilities should be elevated so that they are less likely to be damaged by the climb. flood waters.

Modern codes

In addition, any federal investment in infrastructure must, at a minimum, be designed and built according to the latest codes to take into account other climate impacts that are not related to flooding.

Over the past 30 years of code development, every stakeholder – from developers to landlords to tenants – has globally benefited from the improved code requirements for natural hazards. However, the adoption of the code is not uniform across the country. While some communities adopt new editions of code on a regular cycle, others stay on older and obsolete editions. Communities that do not update their codes continue to allow construction that does not meet proven standards to make homes more resilient and better able to withstand extreme events.

For example, in the United States, I-Codes protect new buildings against a variety of hazards – hurricane winds, earthquakes, and interface fires between wildlands and cities. Adopting IRC or IBC 2018 (currently the latest I codes) offers a benefit-cost ratio (BCR) of $ 11 to $ 1.

“Building codes have greatly improved society’s resilience to disasters” by reducing loss of life, property damage and business disruption. All stakeholders – from developers, title holders and lenders to tenants and communities – benefit from safer and stronger codes.

Climate impacts

The impacts of climate change – extreme heat, severe storms and sea level rise – are already impossible to ignore and are expected to increase in severity even under the most optimistic greenhouse gas emission reduction scenarios. According to the National Climate Assessment, the heaviest rains are becoming increasingly heavy and frequent, alongside an increase in flooding where the largest increases in the amounts of heavy rains have occurred.

Sea level is also expected to rise exponentially over the century. By 2100, the global average sea level could rise up to 6.6 feet. Even a two-foot sea level rise will have serious consequences, endangering more than 5,790 square miles of coastline and over $ 1 trillion in current properties and structures.

Rising sea levels and increasing episodes of heavy rains are expected to continue for the foreseeable future, threatening cities, homes and entire communities // LINK //. Climate change will have significant impacts on the reliability and operability of the country’s infrastructure, with corresponding potential disruptions to the US economy. However, these climate impacts can be reduced through smart planning and adaptive actions.

As the saying goes, the future is now. The effects of a changing climate are upon us. As we invest in buildings, roads and water treatment plants that will stay with us for decades to come, we need to make sure they can withstand hotter heat waves, stronger storms and more. to larger floods.

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