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KANW is a member of the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration of public media stations that serves the Western states of Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Our mission is to tell stories about the people, places and issues across the Mountain West.From land and water management to growth in the expanding West to our unique culture and heritage, we'll explore the issues that define us and the challenges we face.

New report highlights those most vulnerable to flood risks

A river cut into a hillside, completely taking out a road and leaving an exposed culvert
Jacob W. Frank
National Park Service
Yellowstone National Park flood event 2022: Road washout upriver from Rescue Creek Trailhead

Over 53 million people in the United States live in communities with high flood risks. Some of those risks are particularly pronounced in parts of our region, according to new analysis from Headwaters Economics.

Much of Idaho and a number of counties elsewhere in the West showed high or very high flood risk, according to that analysis and an interactive map produced for it. But the report notes that not all members of a community are impacted by flooding equally.

“Each type of group of person with a specific vulnerability, they might need something different to help prepare for a flood or survive the flood or recover from the flood,” said Headwaters researcher Kristin Smith. “So understanding the detail of who's at risk can be really important.”

The map allows users to look at local poverty levels, the percentage of residents in rental housing and other key demographic data. It’s intended to help officials identify places that may need more assistance or investment to get ready for floods and protect residents.

The report recommends prioritizing help in so-called lower-capacity communities, which have less staff and resources to address flooding and other risks. It also calls for putting a greater focus on people and their well-being, rather than property losses.

“Many disaster policies are focused on property values, damage assessments, and repair costs,” the report says. “As a result, high-income places often receive more attention and resources.”

Smith added, “When a flood hits a community, disasters tend to just exacerbate that inequality within the community. It speaks to the need to get ahead of the problem and to invest in solutions now so that a community doesn't have to go through these harrowing problems with terrible rippling effects for everyone.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

As Boise State Public Radio's Mountain West News Bureau reporter, I try to leverage my past experience as a wildland firefighter to provide listeners with informed coverage of a number of key issues in wildland fire. I’m especially interested in efforts to improve the famously challenging and dangerous working conditions on the fireline.