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Urban Flooding and Energy Efficiency: Leveraging Community Action

Urban flooding is a widespread problem in the United States. Research in Cook County, Illinois, maps an unexpected trend: flooding is not correlated with federally designated floodplains, but instead is caused by rainfall that overwhelms the capacity of drainage systems. The consequences of urban flooding are significant. In addition to damaging buildings, flooding has community-wide impacts, including health risks, degraded water quality, and depressed property values.

This paper describes lessons learned from a pilot program co-delivered by the Center for Neighborhood Technology and its affiliate, Elevate Energy, which combines flood mitigation assessments with energy efficiency services. In addition to water conservation measures, recommendations to reduce flooding vulnerability are provided. Measures include standard plumbing and waterproofing repairs as well as source reduction strategies such as installing water permeable paving and disconnecting downspouts from sewer lines. Water conservation recommendations include building rain gardens and installing rain barrels to provide irrigation water.

One benefit of this co-delivery of energy efficiency and flooding mitigation services is a more comprehensive and systemic evaluation for building owners. By targeting flooded areas, the pilot engaged a new constituency and provided a mechanism for larger-scale solutions, for example, organizing a constituency to lobby for infrastructure improvements on a municipal level. The paper also includes a discussion on challenges, including cross-training energy auditors in unfamiliar trades and educating building owners on technically complex options. As climate change precipitates extreme weather events, community flooding preparedness is an important aspect of resiliency. Bundling energy and water services can contribute to a future of reduced operating costs and safer, healthier buildings.

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