Uncertainty in floodplain delineation: expression of flood hazard and risk in a Gulf Coast watershed


Correspondence to: Jason Christian, University of Georgia, School of Engineering, Athens, GA 30602, USA.

E-mail: jkc@uga.edu


This paper investigates the development of flood hazard and flood risk delineations that account for uncertainty as improvements to standard floodplain maps for coastal watersheds. Current regulatory floodplain maps for the Gulf Coastal United States present 1% flood hazards as polygon features developed using deterministic, steady-state models that do not consider data uncertainty or natural variability of input parameters. Using the techniques presented here, a standard binary deterministic floodplain delineation is replaced with a flood inundation map showing the underlying flood hazard structure. Additionally, the hazard uncertainty is further transformed to show flood risk as a spatially distributed probable flood depth using concepts familiar to practicing engineers and software tools accepted and understood by regulators. A case study of the proposed hazard and risk assessment methodology is presented for a Gulf Coast watershed, which suggests that storm duration and stage boundary conditions are important variable parameters, whereas rainfall distribution, storm movement, and roughness coefficients contribute less variability. The floodplain with uncertainty for this coastal watershed showed the highest variability in the tidally influenced reaches and showed little variability in the inland riverine reaches. Additionally, comparison of flood hazard maps to flood risk maps shows that they are not directly correlated, as areas of high hazard do not always represent high risk. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.