Preventing Flood Damage

Techniques for preventing flood damage can be classified as structural and non-structural approaches:

  •  Structural flood control measures reduce flood hazards by controlling the flow of water in rivers and streams. Structural flood protection in the STC region is provided by Corps of Engineers flood control dams, levee systems protecting villages and cities, and numerous smaller projects (such as flood attenuation wetlands).

  •  Non-structural techniques for preventing flood damage are based on acceptance of flooding as a natural process that cannot be completely controlled. Because flooding is only a problem when floodwaters interfere with human activities, non-structural approaches focus on altering human behavior. Non-structural techniques include floodplain management, stream corridor protection, floodproofing of existing structures, removing flood-prone development, stormwater management, watershed management, flood warning, and flood response.

    Effective management of flood risks in the STC region requires a balance of both structural and non-structural flood damage prevention measures. An evaluation of alternative flood damage techniques and recommendations for managing the region's flood risks are presented in Reducing Flood Damage in the Southern Tier Central Region.

    The limitations of structural flood control measures include the following:

    • No area is completely protected. Flood control structures are designed to protect known flood hazard areas up to a certain limit.
    • Structural projects alter the dynamics of hydrologic systems and can have adverse impacts beyond the areas they were designed to protect.
    • Once development has occurred within protected areas, additional development may be attracted to adjoining unprotected lands, with a net result of increased flood risks.
    • The sense of security provided by structural flood control projects can lead to complacency about non-structural methods of flood damage reduction.
    • Dikes, dams, storm sewers, and channel modifications require ongoing maintenance. Failure to provide such maintenance may result in catastrophic flood losses. (Read a newsletter article entitled, Who Takes Care of Flood Control Levees?)
    • Some flooding problems are not conducive to structural solutions.
    • Land acquisition and construction costs for structural projects can be prohibitively high.

    One of the best ways to prevent flood damage is to keep flood-prone areas free from development. Undeveloped buffers along rivers, streams, and lakes allow for fluctuations in these dynamic hydrologic systems with minimal damage to human activities. In addition to reducing the potential for flood damages, preserving floodplain lands as open space greatly enhances the naturally beneficial functions that floodplains provide. More information is on the STC webpage about stream processes and managing stream corridors.

    Floodplain management involves regulation of new development within areas that have been mapped as high flood hazard zones (regulated floodplains). Floodplain fact sheets and other resources are on the STC webpage about floodplain development standards.

    Stormwater management mitigates the adverse impacts of development by implementing practices to control the amount and timing of runoff from development sites. Learn more at STC's stormwater management webpages.

    Property protection measures that can reduce future flood damages to existing development include: relocation, acquisition, building elevation, floodproofing of buildings, sewer backup protection, and infrastructure protection. Additional information is on the STC webpage about property protection techniques.

    Flood insurance can reduce the financial impact of a flood. Flood losses are not covered by most insurance policies. Separate coverage for flood damage can be purchased for buildings and contents from insurance agents (through the National Flood Insurance Program). Flood insurance is generally required as a condition of the mortgage for properties located in the regulated floodplain. FEMA provides information about flood insurance at

    Because any activity that affects drainage characteristics or erosion anywhere in a watershed can impact flooding problems, watershed management is a critical component of flood risk management efforts. Link to information about watershed planning in the STC region.

    Flood warning and effective flood response are the greatest defense against loss of life during a flood. Additional information is on the STC webpages about flood warning and flood safety.

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