Written by Paula Georges
The Boston Globe reports that as sea levels rise and storms become more powerful, the risk of flooding in the City is increasing, bringing with it potentially devastating financial impacts. Citing a recent study from the First Street Foundation, the news article states that in Boston “by mid-century more than 3,000 properties a year would face substantial risk of damage from flooding, those losses are likely to exceed $62 million a year in 30 years, 75% more than now.” As a coastal city, Boston’s low-lying neighborhoods face serious problems from damage due to seepage, since so much of our housing stock and structures are not built to resist flooding. Right now, Boston’s homeowners pay an average of $700 or less a year for flood insurance; the report predicts that in 30 years the cost may be as high as $9000 annually.
Environmentalists are calling for measures such as restoring river flood plains and making sure that there are undeveloped areas left to absorb stormwater. Coastal management experts call for retreating from high flood zones and not rebuilding in areas that are prone to flooding. Boston, like other high density urban areas, faces a unique set of challenges, since its existing building stock can’t easily be moved to less flood prone areas. For example, the Seaport district is the newest and perhaps the most vulnerable area for flooding damage in Boston. It is clear now that permitting its development was misguided and unsustainable.
The Mayor and City Council will soon be reviewing recommendations to update the Building Energy and Reporting Ordinance (BERDO) with new standards for owners of large buildings to curb greenhouse emissions. While that effort will mitigate climate change impacts, we must not lose sight of the importance of the need to address — through other policy measures — the climate change impacts we can no longer prevent. The City already has “guidelines” to reduce the impacts of flooding. It would be wise also to consider requiring retrofits that protect against damage from flooding in high-risk areas.