Archive Hosted by the AFL-CIO

Peer Pressure to Prevent Flash Floods

January 02, 2014 By Olivia Nelson, Macalester College

This summer, as rain poured down outside in my hometown of Glenview, IL, my mom frantically entered my room at 3 in the morning, “I’m sorry, I just need to check the crawl,” she said as she flicked on the lights to my room and lifted my closet floor panel which leads to the crawl space.
Back in 2002, a particularly heavy rain submerged our crawl space and furnace. Local firefighters deemed our house a fire hazard, and my family paid roughly $10,000 in damage repairs that year.

At least once a year, there’s a rain heavy enough to send my suburban town into crisis mode. After such events, one can assess the damage by driving through my neighborhood and counting the piles of couches, floorboards, and carpets lining the street.



Across the nation, catastrophic flooding causes all sorts of havoc and expenses yearly for residents. According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, on average each year flooding accounts for $8.17 billion in damages and takes 89 lives. Unfortunately, these extreme weather systems aren’t going anywhere. In fact, they are predicted to worsen with climate change. The EPA reports that “the last three decades have been the wettest in a century for the Midwest” and that “precipitation in the Midwest is likely to fall more frequently in heavy downpours, which will increase the likelihood of flooding, property damage, travel delays, and disruption in services.” It’s time for our neighborhoods, our cities, our states, and our nation to take action and lessen the effect of floods on our homes.

For instance, adding more permeable surfaces in our communities allows water to soak into the ground instead of running off into streams and rivers. So that new massive garage and concrete driveway my next door neighbors installed, yep, that didn’t help.

Consider placing a rain garden of native plants near your house. The roots of those plants will help soak up the water and slow down the speed of a flash flood. We are constantly rebuilding, remaking the spaces around us—it is time that we truly remake those spaces with flooding in mind. For example, lobby to invest in retention basins which prevent floods, improve water quality, and add natural beauty to a location.

If construction is expected in your neighborhood, attend the town meetings and suggest the use of permeable surfaces or increased vegetation. For instance, the Red River Valley recently began a $6 million project to restore more than 1,300 acres of wetlands to reduce the impact of flooding as well as create waterfowl habitat, reduce pollution from farm runoff, and help recharge an underground aquifer. The possibilities for city level reconstruction to mitigate flooding are endless.

Lastly, once you do make those changes, let your neighbors know. It turns out that social pressure is a powerful force. Graduate students ran a study in San Marcos, California where they left messages on the doors of residents urging them to turn off their air-conditioning and turn on their fans. The messages that spoke of financial benefits, environmental benefits, and citizen responsibility had no impact to change the community’s behavior. What did have an effect were the messages stating that their neighbors were taking action and turning off their air-conditioning and turning on their fans. So, you want your neighbors to make changes to their property to prevent flooding? Let them know the steps that you are taking and they will be more likely to follow.

In Minnesota, we pride ourselves on being “Minnesota nice” and our hospitality. If for no other reason, take these actions to be a good neighbor and citizen for those downstream.

You have one more option — do nothing at all. After a huge storm, resume your life as it was before or deceive yourself into thinking flash flooding will never have an effect on your property. But when you are knee deep in water and drowning in damage expenses, please let the thought sink in that all of these small changes could have made the world of a difference.

Thanks for participating! Commenting on this conversation is now closed.