How flooding impacts infrastructure

by Yazmin Macias / Sep 16, 2022



In this kid-friendly podcast, Worth Noting delves into hot topics in the world currently, bringing information about the topic to the front. This episode studies the possibility of California suffering from a major flood, using current and breaking research. Asking kids to look at the infrastructure of their cities and what they want their future to look like. 


This post has been lightly edited for clarity.  

Matthew: In 1862, a catastrophic flood in California claimed the lives of over 4,000 people, destroying one-third of all property in the state. What new research is uncovering for the future of California is Worth Noting.


On August 12, 2022, the newsroom at UCLA, the University of California, Los Angeles, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research published a study from the first part of ArkStorm 2.0, a scenario to prepare for catastrophic flooding in the western United States.


These researchers have been building and studying computer models of weather patterns in order to anticipate when another climate event may be approaching. The “ArkStorm scenario” was devised in response to studying the flood that occurred in California in 1862. The researchers updated their model “to account for the additional flood-worsening effects of climate change”.  


Studying climate patterns can help cities and states to better anticipate the ways their regions may be affected by climate. This, in turn, can impact infrastructure planning. 





Do sewers and drain systems need to be updated in order to ensure safe and fast removal of water from storms? Do building codes need to be reassessed to make certain that all structures can withstand earthquakes? Do communities need to be relocated to higher grounds so as not to be in flood zones? Do roads and highways need to be expanded in order to accommodate large populations in the event of an evacuation? 


Populations grow. This demands that city infrastructure grows with it. But, with a changing climate and the impact of natural disasters being felt more and more frequently, the question has been shifting from “What disasters impact us and how should we be prepared?” to “Is there enough time to make the changes necessary to survive an impending disaster of this magnitude?”   


A megaflood, or outburst flood, releases a huge amount of water suddenly. This can be from the erosion and collapse of rock or earth barriers, which triggers a flood. I can also be from man-made dams and retainer walls failing. 


ArkStorm 2.0 research projects that huge storms “will generate 200% to 400% more runoff in the Sierra Nevada Mountains due to increased precipitation and more precipitation falling as rain, not snow.” 


Reading from the news report, “In the future scenario, the storm sequence is bigger in almost every respect,” said Daniel Swain, UCLA climate scientist and co-author of the paper [titled “Climate change is increasing the risk of a California megaflood“]  …published… in the journal Science Advances. “There’s more rain overall, more intense rainfall on an hourly basis and stronger wind.” 


Keep in mind, listeners, that the flood in 1862 claimed the lives of 4,000 California residents. At the time, the state’s population was about 500,000 people total. Today, there are nearly 40 million people living in California. 


“Were a similar event to happen again”, researchers share in their report, “parts of cities such as Sacramento, Stockton, Fresno, and Los Angeles would be under water even with today’s extensive collection of reservoirs, levees and bypasses. It is estimated that it would be a $1 trillion disaster, larger than any in world history.”


We cannot change natural disasters. We can only change our response to them and our contributions to the already changing climate.





So here’s your homework.


Picture the world you want to inherit. The one you’ll step into after school. The one where your kids will grow up, should you choose to have kids of your own.


We have a tendency to think about the here and now without giving weighted thought to the impact our decisions are having on our future. There are many ways to use your voice, but this will take many, many voices. This change is global, and so the response needs to be global as well.


But this also means that you are not at all alone. In fact, I am your partner in helping to change the path we’re on. So dream big. Do not limit your ambitions. And, certainly, do not be afraid to reach out and to ask, “Will you help me with this? I’m trying to save the world.”


I’m Matthew. And this is Worth Noting.