Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council takes technical lead in statewide flood mitigation planning

Although Florida's coastal communities excel in disaster preparedness in the face of storm surge and rising sea levels, Regional Planning Councils statewide recognize a necessity to innovate and improve flood mitigation strategies for the state's inland regions.

In January, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) awarded $1.49 million in grant funding to a partnership of six Regional Planning Councils to create a statewide approach to flood planning and mitigation. Funds are allocated through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Community Development Block Grant Mitigation program. 

The Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council is the technical lead on the three-year project, which launches in early spring. The Northeast Florida Regional Council will take the lead in organizing data, and East Central Florida Regional Planning Council acts as the project manager. 

"This represents a big deal in the sense that it's a Community Development Block Grant program, which is not always a primary funder of what we do. It provides an opportunity that's outside the box for us to be creative -- to access funds to further our resilience efforts, not only along the coast but in inland areas that are impacted by flooding," says Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council Executive Director Sean Sullivan.

Sullivan notes that while flood mitigation strategies are often robust in coastal cities that are built to withstand hurricane-season weather threats, extreme weather preparedness presents a challenge in many inland areas. He cites some Tampa Bay area examples:

"In inland Pasco County during the rainy season, for instance, there are big problems. In Pinellas, Tarpon Springs Mobile Home Park repeatedly floods. Inland west Hillsborough also experiences significant flooding," Sullivan notes. 

The first phase of the project will dispatch GIS maps and IT modeling systems developed by Marshall Flynn, Director of Information Systems and GIS for the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, to analyze flood metrics across three major regions: greater Tampa Bay, Northeast (Jacksonville area) and East-Central (Orlando area) Florida. 

"I've developed tools for sea-level rise and storm surge for the state that are used to determine evacuation zones and for evacuation zone studies. But inland areas are a gap -- and that gap analysis needs to be dealt with, first," says Flynn.

Using this data as a launching point, the project aims to develop a template for other regions to prepare and prioritize actionable strategies for resilience.

"What if X amount of rain happens over so many days or so many hours in inland areas? What type of flooding will it produce? We're creating a way to find out where this is happening and developing mitigation pilot plans for other regions," Marshall says.

The project grant is part of nearly $20 million in resiliency funding awarded by the DEO to 37 municipalities, educational institutions, and nonprofit organizations around the state of Florida. 

"This is a reflection of hard work on behalf of six Regional Planning Councils who collaborated together. We know resilience is important not only in Tampa Bay but throughout the state of Florida," says Sullivan.

"We're hoping, from Marshall's expertise and that of other folks on the team, that we can develop flood planning that can be used throughout Florida to make our regions more resilient. We know what we've learned from past events. We're taking that knowledge, combined with the brainpower in our community, to put those into actionable plans to help mitigate the effects of extreme weather for all Floridians."
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Jessi Smith (she/they) is a freelance writer who is passionate about sustainability, community building, and the power of the arts and transformative storytelling. A fourth-generation Floridian, Jessi received her B.A. in Art History and English from Florida International University and began reporting for 83 Degrees in 2009. When she isn't writing, Jessi enjoys taking her deaf rescue dog on outdoors adventures, unearthing treasures in backroads antiques and thrift shops, D.I.Y. upcycling projects, and Florida-friendly gardening.