I received my monthly American Society of Civil Engineers magazine yesterday in the mail, and the lead article was titled “Defending New Orleans”, which described the flood risk reduction measures that the Corps of Engineers is currently constructing and nearly finished.
The figures are jaw dropping. $14 billion price tag. A single pump station capable of a peak discharge of 19,000 cfs. Miles of levees and flood walls. Numerous operable flood gates including smaller but still massive versions of the Dutch flood gates on the Maas River.
While the debate on whether this project is “worth it” is an important conversation, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, the recent flooding in Colorado, and numerous flooding events in the past graphically illustrate the need to know who is at risk and how bad could the economic and potential loss of life be.
GIS and more importantly the spatial data and information that is the foundation of analysis and mapping is critical to reducing flood risk in the future. We, as water resource engineers, use GIS on a daily basis to determine flood risk. Soils, land use, and topography provide the basis for determining how much runoff we can expect. LiDAR data provides the potential to create inundation mapping and determine at-risk structures. NEXRAD radar data can be integrated with GIS to complete forensic analyses of actual flood events.
So the next time we intersect soils and land use, just think that simple GIS task could be part of a billion dollar project! And even if it’s not, it is still a valuable support to flood risk management and hopefully reducing flood damage losses in the future.