An Assessment of Cross-Scale Floodplain Policies in Central Texas
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Humans have been managing rivers and floodplains since ancient times, but our relationship with riverine floodplains has changed over time. In the United States, social movements, natural disasters, and urbanization have driven floodplain policies and implementation. Specifically, this project examined floodplain policy change at four political scales, federal, state, county, and municipal. The State of Texas, Hays County, and the Cities of San Marcos, Wimberley, and Woodcreek were chosen as case studies within the US federalist system. At all scales, floodplains are primarily governed and managed for their relationship to development and flood-control. Levees and dams have been the most common structural floodcontrol strategies nationwide and statewide. However, the long-term costs and adverse environmental impacts have influenced the shift in flood mitigation to favor nonstructural methods. Text mining methods were used to with current policy documents using Atlas.ti (version 8 for Mac OS), a qualitative data analysis software (QDAS). The results show the distribution of floodplains in current regulatory codes and former periods of high and low floodplain policy activities. Trigger events were identified for each governmental scale. At the federal level, national disasters, such as the Great Flood of 1927 and Hurricane Katrina (2005), spurred flood-control policy reform as well as the environmental movement in the 1960s-1970s. The National Environmental Policy Act (1969), Clean Water Act (1972), and Environmental Species Act (1973) set national policies that influenced state and local floodplain management. Severe droughts drove water planning policy change that spread to include floodplains. Texas floodplain policy is changing and being implemented rapidly while the opposite is true at the federal level. The municipalities’ floodplain regulations were impacted most directly by localized floods. Floodplain management has evolved through the 20th and 21st centuries, driven by social movements, natural disasters, and urban and agricultural development. The mismatch of hydrologic and political boundaries produces planning and management challenges. Primarily, floodplains are governed and managed for their relationship to development and flood-control. Text mining techniques were used to assess policy documents using Atlas.ti (version 8 for Mac OS), a qualitative data analysis software (QDAS) to create a historical timeline of floodplain policy change for the United States of America, the State of Texas, Hays County, and the Cities of San Marcos, Wimberley, and Woodcreek. Reviewing past missteps and successes will inform better policy and management decisions for floodplains and other natural resources. With climate change and growing urban populations, proactive management and resilient strategies are more important than ever.