A Flood Conference in Grand Rapids

Greetings from Michigan.

I’m spending the next few days in beer-filled Grand Rapids, Michigan at the Association of State Floodplain Managers national conference. It’s a fairly packed agenda of talks and workshops, though I’m trying to work in a hefty dose of seeing the city, grabbing various burgers, and sampling some of the aforementioned beer. It’s a fitting location, what with Lake Michigan just a short trip away and the Grand River running through the heart of the city. The conference itself is an order of magnitude smaller than the APA Conferences I’m used to, but it’s also more intimate. The few sessions I’ve been to thus far more readily feature discussion, which is a welcome break from the standard powerpoint. These discussions have also been more technical than I’m used to, another welcome change from the sometimes too broad for their own good talks at planning conferences.

This is an interesting time for flood plain managers and coastal planners. The effects of climate change and sea level rise are palpable. There’s also a certain morbid satisfaction that the general projections of sea level rise from a decade ago are being validated on the ground today. The focus on risk projection and assessment are a primary focus. The FEMA flood map just isn’t good enough anymore. Things are changing, and they’re changing fast. Retreat and accommodation of water is a primary thread. The literal evacuation of the floodplain is being seriously considered by planners nationwide. It’s harrowing to think about, but it’s and important conversation. As the data and modeling continue to improve, I think it’ll point to serious opportunities for more robust master planning, especially on the coast. A rosy prediction, though. It’s gonna be a lot messier than that.

I’ll be checking in throughout the week with more updates and hopefully some substantial writeups on what I’ve learned.

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