Smart Growth Along the Riverfront Helps Manage Stormwater in Iowa City, Iowa

Smart Growth Along the Riverfront Helps Manage Stormwater in Iowa City, Iowa

Equity & Justice

While flooding events negatively impact all coastal populations, lower-income communities typically suffer the most due to fewer financial resources and less insurance protection from property damage and loss. Additionally, flood emergency responses may prioritize more affluent communities over poorer communities due to political and economic power disparities. The University of Michigan produced a case study on floods and socioeconomic inequality that found that people of color, who are more likely to rent than own their home, are disproportionately harmed by floods as most renters' insurance policies do not cover flood damage. 

The smart growth approach to community development is at the core of equitable adaptation and resilience in the built environment, and can help address long-standing environmental, health, and economic disparities among vulnerable demographics. These strategies range from offering affordable and sustainable transportation options, to planning and land use policies that support walkable, healthy neighborhoods. 

Project Summary

Iowa City, Iowa was among the hardest hit communities from the 2008 Iowa River floods with extensive flooding along the riverfront. In 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and FEMA worked with the state organization, Rebuild Iowa, to identify policy options to accommodate growth in the Riverfront Crossings District and add green infrastructure and open

space to reduce flooding. Subsequent USEPA assistance on brownfields redevelopment and green infrastructure helped the city develop a master plan to rebuild the riverfront while protecting the environment, promoting equitable development and helping address the challenges of climate change. The Riverfront Crossings Master Plan aims to create a resilient riverfront community park using flood mitigation measures and stormwater best management practices to protect against future flooding.

a rendered map of the Iowa City riverfront
Illustration of the riverfront restoration.

The plan would entail relocating vulnerable properties and infrastructure away from the floodplain and guiding future development away fromthe most vulnerable areas. The Riverfront Crossings Master P

lan promotes green infrastructure, vegetated buffer zones and public spaces along rivers and streams to reduce flooding, runoff and erosion. While this plan did not explicitly incorporate climate projections, it can help Iowa City better manage projected increases in extreme rainfall, stormwater runoff and flooding along the riverfront. The Riverfront Crossings Master Plan will help Iowa City transition a high risk flood prone area with critical community infrastructure into a public riverfront park that provides recreational amenities, and helps the community adapt to current and future high river flows.

How did they do it?
ActionApplicable Resources

Promoted Smart Growth Rebuilding Efforts

  • The city and state agency Rebuild Iowa, with EPA support, developed comprehensive smart growth and green infrastructure development plans that reduce the risk to current and future flooding and avoided placing development within a high risk area.
  • Since 2009, EPA has been involved through several technical assistance programs including technical assistance from the EPA's Smart Growth Program, Green Infrastructure Technical Assistance Program, and the inter-agency Partnership for Sustainable Communities.

Restored Floodplain and Developed Green Infrastructure to Reduce Flooding Impact

  • Designed floodplain restoration consistent with 2009 USEPA Technical Guidance on Implementing the Stormwater Runoff Requirements for Federal Projects.
  • Used green infrastructure and stormwater best management practices to reduce impact of future flooding by creating a riverfront public park.
  • Adapted to higher river elevations through moving critical infrastructure out of the floodplain and redesigning the riverfront to provide stormwater management and a recreational amenity for the community.

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