"Before the (next) deluge: Midwestern floods remind us of sprawl's toll," writes Kaid Benfield



Reduce Rainwater Runoff Volume

“Does suburban sprawl – spread-out, automobile-dependent strip malls, big-box stores, wide arterial roadways, and unending large-lot housing – cause flooding?  Absolutely not. But does sprawl aggravate flooding?  Oh, yeah.  Here’s how,” writes Kaid Benfield in a column posted on the Natural Resources Defense Council Staff Blog.

“Nature, already overburdened by severe precipitation, is prevented entirely from doing its job at limiting the accumulation of flood waters when impervious surface is in the way.”

“Now imagine a different scenario:  With rainwater hitting a smaller footprint of pavement and other hard surfaces, there is less runoff.”

“Would the difference be great enough to prevent flooding altogether during the most severe weather events?  Probably not.  But it could make a difference in the volume of water running off into the flood.”


To Learn More:

To read the complete story on Kaid Benfield’s blog, click on Before the (next) deluge: Midwestern floods remind us of sprawl’s toll.


The View from British Columbia

“The article by Kaid Benfield is effective because it paints a picture of the Water Balance that anyone can understand. Hence, the article has value in advancing an educational objective. In British Columbia, we are endeavouring to simplify our choice of language in order to improve our effectiveness in communicating understanding,” comments Kim Stephens, Executive Director of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia.


Mimic the Water Balance

“To bring about changes in policies and practices, it is essential to move away from techno-babble and strip out the hyperbole. Otherwise, your audience may quickly tune out. The concept of the Water Balance is an easy one for people to grasp, especially when it is presented in a way such as Kaid Benfield has done. After all, the Water Balance is something that every child learns about in grade five. So it is a matter of triggering those long-forgotten memories.”

“In BC, our message is succinct: view the watershed through a rainwater lens and mimic the Water Balance. We remind our target audiences that the objectives boil down to three desired outcomes: reduce risk, improve stream health and comply with regulatory requirements. Risk is the attention grabber because it has both financial and environmental dimensions.”


Reduce Risk – Financial and Environmental

“At the end of the day, it is money that talks. Communities are hard-pressed financially to renew and replace essential infrastructure such as water supply and sewage treatment. And there is pressure to hold the line on taxes. When there is stream erosion, there is a cost. When there is flooding, there is a cost. So, why would any community take on an unfunded liability? That is how we express the consequences of not maintaining the Water Balance,” concludes Kim Stephens.  


To Learn More:

Click on Green Infrastructure: Achieve More With Less to download a PDF copy of an article published in Construction Business Magazine in 2011. “The financial burden and environmental impacts associated with ‘pipe-and-convey’ drainage infrastructure contrast with the benefits of ‘green’ infrastructure at a watershed scale: natural landscape-based assets reduce runoff volumes, have lower life-cycle costs, decrease stresses applied to creeks, and enhance urban liveability,” wrote Ray Fung and co-authors Kim Stephens and Anna Warwick Sears.

Also, click on  Integrated Rainwater Management: Move to a Levels-of-Service Approach to Sustainable Service Delivery to download an article published in the Asset Management BC Newsletter in January 2011.


Water Balance graphic courtesy of the Integration and Application Network, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science