A Quarter of the Nation’s Critical Infrastructure Is at Risk of Flooding. It’s Going to Get Worse
The United States’ infrastructure is not prepared to withstand the effects of the climate crisis. At all.
According to a new report from the First Street Foundation, a research and technology nonprofit, a quarter of the nation’s critical infrastructure — including hospitals, police stations, fire departments, utilities, airports, and critical manufacturing — is at risk of flooding.
The nation’s roads aren’t in great shape either. The report found that just under a quarter of them — 23 percent accounting for 2 million miles — are currently at risk of becoming impassable due to floods, with the risk expected to increase by three percent over the next three decades.
First Street Nation’s report draws on a nationwide model of community flooding risk for both now and 30 years in the future when it writes that “millions of additional properties will be at risk.” Between now and 2051, the report notes, the U.S. can anticipate flood risk to increase by 10 percent for residential properties. Currently, 12.4 million residential properties are at risk, but that number will rise to 13.6 million by 2051. Social infrastructure like government buildings, museums, and schools will see flooding risk increase by 9 percent over the same time period, while critical infrastructure flooding risk will increase by 6 percent.
The researchers pointed to Hurricane Ida, which recently hit Louisiana and parts of the East Coast, including New York City, resulting in devastating flooding and infrastructure damage while causing nearly 100 deaths.
“As we saw a few weeks ago following the devastation of Hurricane Ida, our nation’s infrastructure is not built to a standard that protects against the level of flood risk we face today, let alone how those risks will grow over the next 30 years as the climate changes,” Matthew Eby, the foundation’s founder and executive director, told USA Today.
States along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, as well as in the Northwest, will likely see the most significant increases in risk over the next 30 years thanks to increases in sea-level rise and precipitation. The top five states most at risk for floods now, the researchers found, were Louisiana, Florida, West Virginia, and Kentucky, which contain 17 of the top 20 counties with the highest flood risk. However, it noted that states like Texas and South Carolina have cities that are consistently ranked as having a high risk of flooding. Several major cities were mentioned as being particularly vulnerable, such as New Orleans, Miami, Tampa, Charleston, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
“It is clear, now more than ever, that the ways and places in which we live are likely to continue to be impacted by our changing environment,” the report said.
Fixing infrastructure is costly. A $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill is currently being considered in the House after it passed the Senate in August, but talks have stalled as progressive members of the Democratic Party insist that a “soft infrastructure” reconciliation bill addressing child care and climate change must be passed simultaneously.
It’d be nice if reports like the one published by First Street Nation — or the United Nations report in August that described climate change as a “code red for humanity” — would inspire Congress to start taking the climate crisis seriously. So far, this hasn’t been the case.