W.Va. leaders working to create new flood prevention plan

West Virginia leaders working to create new flood prevention plan
Published: May. 18, 2022 at 5:44 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - West Virginia leads the nation in flooding disasters during the past decade, according to state leaders.

Officials are hoping to prevent future disasters, like the one that left large parts of Huntington underwater earlier this month, by creating a new flood prevention plan. State and local leaders met Wednesday in Charleston for the beginning of a two-day symposium to talk about what is needed in this updated plan.

Huntington Mayor Steve Williams and Gov. Jim Justice delivered remarks on the large amount of money available in the state that can be used to solve this issue. Williams said there are enough resources to prevent another tragic flood from happening in his city, even if it takes a couple of years to get the solution completed.

“Frankly, it’s up to us now to put together the right individuals, the brilliant people who can come up with design and solutions,” Williams said. “Let’s make sure this once in a lifetime, or once in a generation event, never ever happens again.”

The state’s current plan was created in 2004, and flood committee member Sen. Stephen Baldwin (D-Greenbrier) said he didn’t even know it existed during the June 2016 flood. Because of this, the State Resilience Office was created and is required to create a flood plan and review and update it every year.

State Resilience Office Director Robert Martin said technology has grown by “leaps and bounds” since 2004, allowing for better flood mitigation and detection. West Virginia also experiences different types of flood-causing storms now, with short bursts dropping lots of water in small areas, that need to be managed in a new way.

“What we are trying to do is come up with methods and an overall strategic plan for the state to try to mitigate some of the flooding that occurs regularly here,” Martin said. “You can’t get around flooding, it’s going to happen, we just try to mitigate what is going to occur and how bad it is and what the effect of that is.”

New methods being considered for the plan include updated gauges on creeks and streams, additional cleaning of debris in drainage culverts, expanding flood walls and lifting buildings out of the flood plain, Martin said. The goal is to reduce the impact of a storm from 100 victims down to around five.

“Instead of flowing rapidly, you’ve got three feet of water in a wall that’s coming behind (a clogged culvert,” Martin said. “It rips out more culverts as it goes down the way that have built up water behind them.”

The Resilience Office brought in national experts on flood prevention, including the Pew Charitable Trusts and SBP, to participate in the discussion and provide insight on what other states are doing to mitigate flooding.

For example, Iowa is using a watershed system to manage stream and creek flow and keep large amounts of water from overflowing banks, said Mathew Sanders with Pew. Their main focus is on preventing a flood from happening, instead of responding after a flood.

“The goal is to really be cross cutting in a way that we understand why it floods and we are taking proactive action to hold back those flood waters before they impact people,” Sanders said. “We think this holistic evaluation from a planning perspective across the entire state landscape is really key, so you are not isolated across individual jurisdictional boundaries or state agency silos.”

Sanders said Pew will assist the Resilience Office gather the information and input that is given at the symposium and incorporate it into the flood prevention plan.

The final plan is set to be released early next year, and will then be reviewed annually by the Resilience Office.

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