Natural Hazards

, Volume 61, Issue 2, pp 829–842 | Cite as

Flood risk perception in lands “protected” by 100-year levees

  • Jessica LudyEmail author
  • G. Matt Kondolf
Original Paper


Under the US National Flood Insurance Program, lands behind levees certified as protecting against the 100-year flood are considered to be out of the officially recognized “floodplain.” However, such lands are still vulnerable to flooding that exceeds the design capacity of the levees—known as residual risk. In the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta of California, we encounter the curious situation that lands below sea level are considered not “floodplain” and open to residential and commercial development because they are “protected” by levees. Residents are not informed that they are at risk from floods, because officially they are not in the floodplain. We surveyed residents of a recently constructed subdivision in Stockton, California, to assess their awareness of their risk of flooding. Median household income in the development was $80,000, 70% of respondents had a 4-year university degree or higher, and the development was ethnically mixed. Despite the levels of education and income, they did not understand the risk of being flooded. Given that literature shows informed individuals are more likely to take preventative measures than uninformed individuals, our results have important implications for flood policy. Climate-change-induced sea-level rise exacerbates the problems posed by increasing urbanization and aging infrastructure, increasing the threat of catastrophic flooding in the California Delta and in flood-prone areas worldwide.


Risk perception Flood insurance 100-year flood Levee Residual risk Delta 



Ron Baldwin of San Joaquin County Office of Emergency Services and Chris Neudeck of KSN Inc. shared insights from years dealing with flood risk in the region and helped immensely with introductions and logistics. Professors Robert Bea and John Radke (UC Berkeley) provided extremely helpful guidance, and the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder, helped us obtain review comments on our survey instrument through an appeal to experts over its listserve; the comments of Kristin Hoskin and Toni Morris-Oswald were especially helpful. Hervé Piégay computed a contingency table and provided helpful comments on the nature of the data and potential statistical tools. The work was partially supported by the National Science Foundation EFRI Grant No. 0836047 and the Beatrix Farrand Fund of the Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, UC Berkeley.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental PlanningUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA
  2. 2.Division of Flood ManagementAmerican RiversBerkeleyUSA

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