CLIMA: Climate-Resilient Infrastructure Adaptations for Maladaptive Levee Networks

Project: Research project

Project Details


Millions of people and trillion dollars of property in the US are protected from flooding by levee systems. However, most federally monitored levees fall short of minimum accreditation standards. Further, climate change exacerbates flooding, likely making current levee protection inadequate in the future. Upgrading and extending existing levees require substantial investments and may not lead to net positive effects for all communities across a given river network. This CiviL Infrastructure research for climate change Mitigation and Adaptation (CLIMA) project aims to address this problem by exploring a theory-guided systems modeling framework for designing climate-resilient levee infrastructure that supports floodplain communities in an equitable way. The project focuses on two interrelated questions: (1) How interactions between a levee network’s performance, future climates, natural infrastructure, and behavioral feedback drive changes in flood risk across communities; and (2) How design adaptations reimagine a levee network that supports equitable, resilient, and sustainable communities. To address them, the project creates a novel systems modeling framework to evaluate levee adaptation strategies, considering factors often overlooked in levee decision-making, such as natural flood infrastructure, variability in levee performance, climate change, unintended consequences of levee construction, and social equity. This framework sees levees as part of a larger adaptive network, where levee decisions made in one community affect others in the same watershed. Through the adaptation lens, the project advances knowledge of the potential of natural flood infrastructure to reduce the need for levees and achieve co-benefits (such as reducing freshwater pollution), the geotechnical factors that drive levee performance at the watershed level, and the interventions and policy options for adapting levees to changing flood conditions. These advancements have the potential to benefit floodplain communities nationwide by facilitating the identification of resilience-building strategies. By utilizing extensive biophysical and social datasets, including new sources like geotechnical field and community surveys, the project creatively couples computational models of natural infrastructure, levee infrastructure, flood inundation risk, and levee decision-making. This integrated approach yields detailed roadmaps of levee adaptations and levee analytics, allowing for better-informed decisions that prioritize equity, resilience, and cost-effectiveness.This project is supported by the Humans, Disasters, and the Built Environment (HDBE) Program and the Civil Infrastructure Systems (CIS) Program of the Division of Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation (CMMI) of the Directorate for Engineering (ENG).This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.
Effective start/end date9/1/238/31/26


  • National Science Foundation: $757,974.00


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