The Flooding That Does Discriminate
BEphilly: Black communities are more susceptible to storm water damage than their White counterparts. They also face more obstacles to recovery.
an ecoWURD feature
Last September, Hurricane Ida inflicted nearly $100 billion worth of damage on states from Louisiana to New York. In Philadelphia, hundreds of people were displaced, and $120 million in damage was caused to public infrastructure. Quiet as it’s kept, the communities that were hit hardest and faced the most obstacles to recovery were Black and poor. As we approach a hurricane season that is potentially more severe than last year’s, we need to strategize our way into climate resiliency and find ways to take care of each other in the aftermath of the storms and create strategies that prevent the damage they cause in the first place.
Black communities are more susceptible to storm water damage than their White counterparts. They also face more obstacles to recovery. As Scientific American reports …
Flooding in the U.S. disproportionately harms African American neighborhoods, an E&E News analysis of federal flood insurance payments shows.
The concentration of flood damage in urban areas with large Black populations may contrast to images of hurricanes hitting affluent coastal areas and riverine floods swamping rural, largely white communities.
But urban flooding and its disproportionate impact on minorities and low-income residents are becoming a growing concern as climate change intensifies floods. At the same time, urban development is creating more impervious surfaces in cities, and aging municipal sewer systems are overwhelmed by the increasing water.
“The [flood] risk to the nation is concentrated in the metro areas,” flood expert Doug Plasencia said yesterday at a national conference on flooding. “Socially vulnerable populations add to the complexity.”
A major concern about flooding in cities is that the residents who are most vulnerable—those who live in the lowest-lying areas or in neighborhoods without green space to absorb water—are often poor and members of minority groups.
Black folks are more likely to face redlining and are priced into flood plains and the lowest lying parcels of urban property. Their neighborhoods are less likely to have trees, forests and gardens that can slow and absorb excess storm water. They are more likely to have excess amounts of pavement, sewer system disinvestment and infrastructure dilapidation. And, in the case of Philadelphia, these are the neighborhoods getting hit most by an upward trend of flooding that - if mitigation strategies aren’t deployed - will get worse over the next few decades as Climate Central’ Risk Finder shows …
Black people are also less likely to have flood insurance. There are more obstacles for them to overcome when trying to access aid.
Flooding in the United States costs the nation more than $32 billion per year. For comparison, the Biden administration recently allocated $2 billion in funding for the nation’s HBCU system. That was considered historic.
The climate crisis ensures Black communities will be the targets of deadly storms and hurricanes year after year. We can’t just keep closing our eyes, crossing our fingers and hoping for the best. There are strategies that can be deployed immediately to control urban storm water and protect Philadelphians from the next wave of storm-related disasters.
Keeping sewers clean and separating sewer lines from stormwater lines can prevent contamination and overflow.
Smart tanks can be used to harvest rainwater for personal use, forecast storms and collect stormwater at rates that can dramatically reduce flooding.
Hydropower plants and micro-hydropower plants can serve as an alternative to fossil fuels and collect enough water to prevent floods. Roof gardens and urban forests can be planted to absorb more water and slow the rate at which storm water reaches the ground. Increasing the amount of porous surfaces in Philadelphia through the Green City - Clean Waters plan has already kept 2.7 billion gallons of polluted water out of rivers. Strengthening sewer and storm water infrastructure citywide and protecting existing green spaces are also important measures that can be taken to protect Black communities from storm damage.
These measures will not only save Black communities and Black lives, but they will drastically decrease the amount of damage absorbed by the city of Philadelphia and its residents every single year because of disastrous storms. We can’t continue to pay billions of dollars per year to recover from a problem that it would take a fraction of the cost to prevent. We can’t continue to allow Black communities to bear the brunt of this burden. But if we start swiftly and strategically implementing solutions to prevent flooding and stormwater damage, we can become a more climate resilient and environmentally just city.