Appalachian groups and impacted communities unveil flood resilience policy priorities

May 30, 2024

John Neurohr,, 717-364-6452

APPALACHIA — ReImagine Appalachia, Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center and the National Wildlife Federation were joined by local elected officials and advocates today to detail a four-pillar flood resilience policy roadmap for Appalachia. Nearly forty groups have endorsed the platform.

Link to platform summary: here
Link to full platform: here
Link to the recording of the press conference: Facebook | Zoom

“Too many of us have lain awake listening to the rain and worrying,” said Dana Kuhnline, Senior Program Director for ReImagine Appalachia. “Numerous studies have shown what nearly anyone can tell you: Floods are getting worse in Appalachia. The problems hit worse at the local level, but they have national solutions, which are outlined in this platform. Communities shouldn’t be left on their own to deal with the enormous and heartbreaking challenges that flooding presents.”

The four pillars of the flood resilience policy roadmap include:

  • Increasing local and state capacity to respond and recover
  • Relieving the recovery and mitigation burden for low-income households
  • Improving flood mapping and data inputs
  • Investing in nature-based hazard mitigation

Policy recommendations include opportunities to increase flood resiliency in the Farm Bill, currently under discussion in the House and the Senate.

“Congress has the opportunity to pass a Farm Bill that focuses on sustainable land management, conservation efforts and infrastructure improvements to help farms and communities better withstand flooding,” said Michael Mehrazar, Advocacy Manager, PennFuture. “The blueprint outlined in ‘Appalachian Flood Resiliency Priorities’ provides a compelling guide for congressional action. It emphasizes the need for Congress to prioritize climate resilience and flood mitigation in American agricultural policy through the Farm Bill which will have lasting impacts for the next several years.”

“Serious flood disasters have become an all-too-common experience for many in Appalachia,” said Brendan Muckian Bates, Policy & Advocacy Associate, Appalachian Citizens Law Center. “Nearly two years ago, Kentucky residents were inundated with a flood of biblical proportions affecting 13 counties and killing over 40 people. Some residents still have been unable to repair their homes and are living in temporary housing, moving from home to home. The scale of loss from these events has taken its toll on residents here, while the magnitude of disasters continues to strain resources.”

Over the last decade, there have been nearly 20 federally declared flooding disasters across Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee and Ohio. The Federal Emergency Management Agency spent nearly $1 billion dollars on these events and at least 230 lives have been lost due to flash flooding. As the report details, the risks of flooding are compounded in Appalachia due to many factors, starting with simple geography. Other factors include historic trends leading to housing often being concentrated along waterways, a history of degraded lands including mining which have been linked to increased flood risks, lack of investment in rural communities resulting in less accurate flood maps and fewer early warning systems for rising water levels, and historically under-resourced communities with lowered capacity for flood reduction measures as well as limited response and recovery resources when disasters hit.

In April, a broad coalition of more than 60 groups delivered an open letter to Congress urging the support of crucial investments for flood recovery and resilience in their communities. The letter underscored the urgent need for decisive action as the region grapples with the intensifying impacts of climate change and increasing flood events, as well as the need for more support for local governments working to recover from flood events and prevent future disasters.

“Our community in Etna, Pennsylvania has worked to implement flood controls and preparation efforts but it isn’t easy navigating these programs,” said Mary Ellen Ramage, Manager of the Borough of Etna, Pennsylvania. “The communities who need flood resiliency preparations the most tend to have the least capacity.”

“In July of 2022, we were struck by a historic flood event,” said Mayor Todd Depriest of Jenkins, Kentucky. “We experienced extremely heavy rainfall that caused flooding that affected over 2000 homes, hundreds of bridges, and other critical infrastructure in our county. Nearly two years later we are still in the process of rebuilding and recovery. We had very little warning about the extreme nature of this event, and have since worked to install streamgages to provide more real-time information about rising water levels, but that took nearly a year due to the struggle to find funding. There are simple, commonsense solutions to help communities with these issues. We hope that Congress will consider some of these changes for our community, and for others in Appalachia.”

The following 37 organizations have endorsed the platform:

Alliance for Appalachia, Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center, Appalachian Voices, Appalshop CMI, Amphibian and Reptile Conservancy, Christians For The Mountains, Community Farm Alliance, Dream.Org, Eastern PA Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation (EPCAMR), Fahe, Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky, Future Generations University, Headwaters, Inc., Kentucky Conservation Committee, Kentucky Heartwood, Kentucky Resources Council, Inc., Kentucky Watershed Watch, Kentucky Waterways Alliance, Keystone Research Center, KO Consulting, LLC, Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network, Inc. (LiKEN), Mountain Association, National Wildlife Federation, Ohio River Foundation, Ohio River Valley Institute, Pasa Sustainable Agriculture, PennFuture, ReImagine Appalachia, Rise Up WV, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS), Three Rivers Waterkeeper, Together for Hope Appalachia, United Way of Southeastern Kentucky, UpstreamPGH, Virginia Conservation Network, West Virginia Rivers Coalition, Wetlands Watch