Lily Verdone, the director of freshwater and marine programs for the Texas chapter of The Nature Conservancy, said that while the survey focused on the buyouts of properties in and around Houston after Hurricane Harvey, the results could still be applied to other coastal cities in the United States that often deal with flooding.
"It has a national relevance," Verdone said. "Coastal cities across the country are dealing with very similar issues, and we feel like this study provides a road map on how to get the best economic, environmental and social needs."
According to the report's findings, the preemptive buying out of property in controlled clusters, as opposed to a reactionary "checker-board" pattern of buyouts after a storm has occurred, increases the effectiveness of flood control in urban areas, especially if the properties are properly converted into open spaces and are close to existing wetlands and protected areas.
The study analyzed the flood claims and flood loss estimations of over 74,000 properties affected by Hurricane Harvey and compiled a database of properties eligible for effective use of the government buyout system by taking into account factors like proximity to previously purchased properties, proximity to existing protected areas and areas that are more impacted socially and economically by flooding.
According to the analysis, if officials looked at properties within 1,000 feet of wetlands, floodplains and other buyouts, as many as 1,100 total properties in Harris County, valued at over $135 million, could be bought out with a positive cost-benefit effect. Under current regulations, 362 properties are eligible, according to the report.
If local governments were to apply a similar set of criteria for deciding which properties to purchase, the study said that buyout programs would remain both cost-effective and strengthen an area's flood resiliency while creating green spaces that add social and environmental value to neighborhoods.
"If we promote the use of nature as a first line of defense to protect properties and people, there's not only an environmental win, but there is also an economic win," Verdone said.