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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Discussion papers
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2018-544
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2018-544
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Opinion article 01 Nov 2018

Opinion article | 01 Nov 2018

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (HESS).

Hess Opinions: Socio-economic and ecological trade-offs of flood management – benefits of a transdisciplinary approach

Karl Auerswald1, Peter Moyle2, Simon Paul Seibert1, and Juergen Geist3 Karl Auerswald et al.
  • 1Grassland Science Unit, Technical University of Munich, 85354 Freising, Germany
  • 2Department of Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology, Center for Watershed Sciences, University of California, Davis CA 95616, USA
  • 3Aquatic Systems Biology Unit, Technical University of Munich, 85354 Freising, Germany

Abstract. In light of climate change and growing numbers of people inhabiting riverine floodplains, worldwide demand for flood protection is increasing, typically through engineering approaches such as more and bigger levees. However, the well-documented “levee effect” of increased floodplain use following levee construction or enhancement often results in increased problems, especially when levees fail or are compromised by big flood events. Herein, we argue that there are also unintended socio-economic and ecological consequences of traditional engineering solutions that need to be better considered, communicated and weighed against alternative solutions. Socio-economic consequences include reduced aesthetic and recreational values as well as increased downstream flooding risk and reduced ecosystem services. Ecological consequences include hydraulic decoupling, loss of biodiversity and increased risk of contamination during flooding. In addition, beyond river losses of connectivity and natural riparian vegetation created by levees, changes in groundwater levels and increased greenhouse gas emissions are likely. Because flood protection requires huge financial investments and results in major and persistent changes to the landscape, more balanced decisions that involve all stakeholders and policy makers should be made in the future. This requires a transdisciplinary approach that considers alternative solutions such as green infrastructure and places emphasis on integrated flood management rather than on reliance on technical protection measures.

Karl Auerswald et al.
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Short summary
The demand for flood protection often results in the construction of more and bigger levees along rivers. We highlight that such technical solutions often result in undesired socioeconomic and ecological consequences such as increased downstream flooding risk, changes of groundwater levels and a loss of aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity. We propose a transdisciplinary approach of integrated flood management and green infrastructure instead of reliance on technical protection measures.
The demand for flood protection often results in the construction of more and bigger levees...
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