U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must evolve to meet the growing demands of climate-fueled flood risk

EDF and nearly 100 organizations and experts send a call to action urging the Corps to usher in a new era of comprehensive, equitable and nature-based flood risk reduction

November 9, 2021
Jacques Hebert

(WASHINGTON, DC – Nov. 10, 2021) As a rapidly changing climate fuels stronger hurricanes, more intense rainfall and sea level rise, EDF and nearly 100 organizations and experts issued a call to action to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to improve and evolve their approaches to provide solutions that tackle the complex issues of independent and compounding flood threats today and in the future. In a letter addressed to newly-confirmed Assistant Secretary of the Army, Civil Works, Michael Connor, the groups outline three specific opportunities for the Corps to meet the challenges of climate-induced flood risk with holistic, equitable and nature-based solutions.

The signers include a diverse array of community-based, regional and national nonprofits and coastal and riverine stakeholder groups, as well as individual academic and policy experts, all representing diverse constituencies from across the country. The letter points to specific places where the Corps can evolve their current approaches to better address climate-fueled flood risk with equitable, nature-based solutions, including New York, Miami, Houston, San Francisco and nationally.

“Our organizations are calling on the Corps to rise to the challenges that climate-induced flooding is creating and evolve to deliver holistic, equitable and long-term solutions. In our rapidly climate-changing world, the standard flood risk reduction operating procedures of the previous century no longer suffice,” said Natalie Snider, associate vice president of Climate Resilient Coasts and Watersheds at Environmental Defense Fund. “The Corps must create a more flood resilient nation by preparing for tomorrow’s flood risks today, leveraging nature as a powerful tool for resilience and prioritizing those communities with the greatest needs.”

“Here on the peninsula of Coney Island in south Brooklyn, New York, we are at the front lines of climate change. Even in a moderate rainfall or high tide, community members feel the trauma of past storms like Ida and Sandy,” said Pamela Pettyjohn, President of Coney Island Beautification Project and a longtime resident of Coney Island. “We need to make sure that communities most affected by the impacts of climate change are empowered and prioritized in decision-making about their futures.”

“To combat our nation’s climate crisis, protect frontline communities, and preserve our vital infrastructure, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must be able to take holistic approaches to solutions,” said Cortney Koenig Worrall, President and CEO, Waterfront Alliance. “Part of this action means planning and committing to solutions with long-term benefits, incorporating nature-based solutions into climate resilience plans, evaluating and reforming cost-benefit-ratio methods to adequately account for multiple benefits, and working closely with environmental justice communities for future planning.”

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is a central player in our flood protection efforts,” said Skip Stiles, executive director, Wetlands Watch. “In the just-passed infrastructure bill, there is almost $12 billion more for their projects. This makes it essential that they take a broader and longer look at resilience, including social and economic impacts and focusing on nature-based solutions.”

“The Army Corps’ overreliance on hard infrastructure and segregation of sea level rise from storm surge solutions puts ecosystems and families in Florida at risk,” said Rachel Silverstein, Executive Director and Waterkeeper, Miami Waterkeeper. “With a new approach, the Corps could provide comprehensive solutions for our communities.”

“Rising sea levels pose a huge flood threat to the San Francisco Bay Area, where more than 350,000 people and billions of dollars of crucial infrastructure are in the 100-year flood plain,” said David Lewis, Executive Director of Save The Bay. “The Corps should help accelerate more marsh restoration to protect vulnerable communities, before higher tides make that impossible.”

Read the full letter to Assistant Secretary of the Army, Civil Works, Michael Connor here.


More people across the country are at risk of flooding than ever before – nearly a quarter of the world’s population according to a recent study in Nature. The recent IPCC AR6 Climate Change 2021 report clearly articulated the urgency in moving beyond the status quo in flood risk management, noting many climate-fueled flood impacts are “locked in” for the coming decades.

The Corps plays a key role in developing and prioritizing federal investments to address flooding for the betterment of the nation. The recently passed Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act allocates $11.6 billion to the Corps for projects to address flooding.

The letter outlines three opportunities for the Corps to improve and evolve to provide solutions that tackle the complex issue of independent and compounding flood threats today and in the future:

1. Advance holistic approaches to address comprehensive flood risks.

2. Prioritize natural solutions to address risks over time and deliver other benefits.

3. Incorporate the social and economic impacts and break systematic inequality.

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One of the world’s leading international nonprofit organizations, Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org) creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. To do so, EDF links science, economics, law, and innovative private-sector partnerships. With more than 2.5 million members and offices in the United States, China, Mexico, Indonesia and the European Union, EDF’s scientists, economists, attorneys and policy experts are working in 28 countries to turn our solutions into action. Connect with us on Twitter @EnvDefenseFund