Flood Vulnerability of Delaware Communities
Delaware is extremely susceptible to the dangers of flooding. It is one of only three states in which 100 percent of its population lives in coastline counties, according to a census report. An article published by Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), Sea Level Rise: Delaware’s Rising Tide, describes possible impacts of sea level rise in the First State. It explains that Delaware is vulnerable to coastal inundation, storm surge, saltwater intrusion, tidal wetland losses, nuisance flooding from high tides, and inland flooding from extreme participation—all of which will be exacerbated by the looming threats of higher rates of sea level rise. Also, each year, 10 – 35 storms such as nor’easters and tropical storms occur in Delaware, often causing flooding. All Delaware communities must evaluate risks, prepare, and implement plans to address flooding caused by storms and extreme precipitation, seasonal high “king” tides, and climate change—including sea level rise.
Because Delaware is the lowest state in the nation regarding average sea level, many think that only coastal communities or towns along bodies of water (rivers, ponds, lakes, inland bays, streams, and creeks) are impacted by flooding. This is not the case. In addition to climate change, flooding can be caused by issues associated with poor or insufficient management of stormwater, floodplains, and/or drainage—including an increase in impervious surfaces due to sprawling land use patterns and development. Flooding also impacts properties near ditches. In Delaware, there are 228 individual tax ditch organizations that manage 2,000 miles of channels that provide benefits/protection to over 10,000 Delawareans. Therefore, flood vulnerability impacts each jurisdiction in Delaware and heightens the need to make communities flood-ready and resilient.
State Policy Framework
Delaware has a long-standing history of fostering stewardship of Delaware’s natural resources promoting wise land use, and ensuring water quality and water management practices. State policies, regulations, and programs have been developed to promote stormwater management, low-impact development, land conservation, riparian buffers, floodplain management, and land use planning strategies to mitigate flooding and adapt to flood risks. In recent years, there has been great momentum to build upon Delaware’s efforts in resiliency and adaptation.
In August 2011, Governor Markell signed Senate Bill 64 into law, authorizing DNREC to adopt guidance and minimum standards to reduce risk from flooding. As a result, DNREC adopted 15 floodplain standards and 6 drainage standards, along with a variety of recommendations that local governments may wish to incorporate into local codes.
In addition, Governor Markell’s Executive Order 41, Preparing Delaware for Emerging Climate Impacts and Seizing Economic Opportunities from Reducing Emissions, set forth an action plan to address climate change, a major cause of flooding in the First State. First, it created the Committee on Climate and Resiliency. This committee was tasked with developing actionable recommendations for state agencies and local governments to improve Delaware’s preparedness and resiliency to climate change and sea level rise.
The Climate Framework for Delaware, unveiled in December 2014, summarizes the work and recommendations of three Committee workgroups that focused on Mitigation, Adaptation, and Flood Avoidance. It includes recommendations that outline Delaware’s future direction for climate action. In addition to recommended actions for state agencies, the Framework outlines the need for interagency coordination and strategies “local governments can take to improve community resiliency, and outreach strategies to inform and prepare Delaware’s residents and businesses about identified risks, vulnerabilities, adaptation strategies, and basics of climate change and its causes, with particular attention to providing strategies to help protect at-risk populations.”
Delaware Local Government Planning Framework: Flood-Ready Communities
With a variety of existing useful resources, this toolbox content provides a planning framework to equip Delaware communities with the tools necessary to transform communities into flood-ready, resilient places. Resilient communities leverage the strengths and capacities of individuals, families, businesses, schools, and hospitals to “bounce back” after flood events, rather than merely react to impacts. Community engagement is an integral process that should be prioritized throughout all stages in creating a flood-ready community. Visit the Public Engagement section of the Delaware Complete Communities Planning Toolbox for ways to achieve public involvement, educate citizens, engage community members, and gain valuable input from stakeholders. The following sections provide a process and tools for Delaware communities to evaluate risks, plan to adapt, and execute actions to address the impacts of flooding.
- Conduct a Vulnerability and Risk Assessment
- Review Maps and Data to Evaluate Risk
- Gauge Local Government Capacity to Manage Risk
- Evaluate Education and Outreach Needs
- Review State of Delaware Sea Level Rise Vulnerability Assessment
- Assess Adequacy of Local Plans, Policies, Codes, and Regulations
- Engage Stakeholders
- Adopt and Incorporate Recommendations of an All Hazards Mitigation Plan into the Comprehensive Plan
- Incorporate Flood Resiliency, Sea Level Rise, and Climate Change Adaptation into Official Local Government Plans. This includes:
- Revising, Updating, or Amending the Comprehensive Plan, or
- Preparing a Separate or “Stand-Alone” Plan (e.g., a Natural Hazards/Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan) that is adopted as an amendment to the comprehensive plan
- Implement Recommendations of the Comprehensive Plan or Stand-Alone Plan(s)
- Adopt Delaware Complete Communities Planning Strategies
- Strengthen Codes and Ordinances to improve Flood Readiness
- Consider Delaware Best Practices
GIS StoryMap on Freeboard
This GIS StoryMap showcases “freeboard” as a tool to achieve a Sustainable and Resilient community. When adopted as part of a floodplain management strategy, freeboard can create Flood-Ready Communities that are prepared to protect and preserve properties and lives.