States play a critical role in planning for flood hazard mitigation, adaptation, and resilience. In addition to their own investments in protective infrastructure and policy, they also act as a conduit between federal government resources and local communities. However, significant gaps exist in planning for flooding at the state level. This report includes findings from a survey of 148 state-level plans that address flooding as well as from in-depth interviews in Iowa, Colorado, North Carolina, Washington, and Florida. We find that most states do not have a comprehensive, strategic approach to flood planning; rather, they tend to include aspects of flood hazard mitigation across various plan types, such as climate plans, water plans, and most commonly, FEMA-approved state hazard mitigation plans. Although individual state programs and data in some cases are much more advanced, flood plans often rely on historical flood events to predict future risk, which is a practice made significantly less effective in the face of changing climate patterns. Moreover, many state plans do not adequately incorporate social vulnerability into their analyses of flood risks or adequately address the needs of socially vulnerable populations.
We also identify promising new programs and initiatives from the sample states, such as the watershed-level planning spearheaded by the Iowa Watershed Approach, efforts to mainstream resiliency criteria in Colorado, and state-funded mitigation programs such as Floodplains by Design in Washington. We conclude that states have significant opportunities to strengthen their flood planning practices by developing a common source for establishing a statewide vision for flood protection, identifying a strategic plan, and establishing trackable outcomes tied to that plan. We further recommend incorporating probabilistic flood modeling incorporating climate change and social vulnerabilities into risk assessments, improving public participation practices, and establishing stronger connections with low-resourced communities to reduce barriers to local funding and support.