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Pluvial flood risk and opportunities for resilience

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The risk presented by pluvial flooding has emerged as a critical issue in urban water management. Pluvial flooding occurs when precipitation intensity exceeds the capacity of natural and engineered drainage systems, and it is expected to increase in frequency, severity and impact through the 21st century due to the combined effects of climate change and urbanization. Although there have been recent advances in approaches to assess the risk presented pluvial flooding and to enhance the resilience of cities to its impacts, they have not been broadly implemented and there are many opportunities for additional research. We provide case studies of pluvial flooding in six cities in the continental United States, which serve as examples of the current vulnerability of cities that have not developed comprehensive pluvial flood management plans and the challenges in conducting pluvial flood research in light of existing data gaps. We also identify key research challenges that should be prioritized by the interdisciplinary water research community to better support urban resilience practice.

This article is categorized under:

  • Engineering Water > Sustainable Engineering of Water
  • Science of Water > Water Quality
  • Engineering Water > Planning Water
Continental US urban resilience to extreme events sustainability research network (UREx SRN) cities. Annual precipitation is from the PRISM climate group, Oregon State University, http://prism.oregonstate.edu, created on February 4, 2004
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Minor pluvial flooding in Phoenix on September 8, 2014 (top left, image: Devon Christopher Adams), New York City on July 15, 2015 (middle, image: Simone Wilson), Baltimore on July 2017 (right, image: Julie Blum)
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Fluvial (left) versus pluvial (right) flooding. Fluvial flooding occurs when water routed by streams, rivers or equivalent water bodies overflows its banks, inundating the adjacent floodplain area. Pluvial flooding occurs when precipitation rates exceed the infiltration capacity of soils and the drainage capacity of stormwater infrastructure, resulting in ponding and overland flow
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Three points approach scheme for pluvial flood management. The horizontal axis represents the rain event return interval and the vertical axis represents the magnitude of impacts. Both axes are on a logarithmic scale. The three “points” represent thresholds for each management domain. (Modified from Fratini et al. ())
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Potential mechanisms by which climate change can increase pluvial flood hazard in cities. Climate change can directly increase the frequency, spatial extent and magnitude of intense rain, which can result in exceedance of designed drainage capacity
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The contemporary 50% (2‐year) and 10% (10‐year) probability hourly precipitation events in six urban resilience to extreme events sustainability research network (UREx SRN) cities, with the equivalent 10‐year storm with a hypothetical local temperature increase of 5 °C, assuming scaling rates based on the Clausius–Clapeyron relation. Parts of the stormwater drainage system in older cities (e.g., Syracuse, New York City and Baltimore) are designed to convey runoff generated only from storms with a 2‐year return interval
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Engineering Water > Sustainable Engineering of Water
Engineering Water > Planning Water

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