River ice thaw and breakup are an annual springtime phenomena in the North. Depending on regional weather patterns and river morphology, breakups can result in catastrophic floods in exposed and vulnerable communities. Breakup flood risk is especially high in rural and remote northern communities, where flood relief and recovery are complicated by unique geographical and climatological features, and limited physical and communication infrastructure. Proactive spring flood management would significantly minimize the adverse impacts of spring floods. Proactive flood management entails flood risk reduction through advances in ice jam and flood prevention, forecasting and mitigation, and community preparedness. With the goal to identify best practices in spring flood risk reduction, I conducted a comparative case study between two flood-prone communities, Galena in Alaska, United States and Edeytsy in the Sakha Republic, Russia. Within a week from each other, Galena and Edeytsy sustained major floods in May 2013. Methods included focus groups with the representatives from flood managing agencies, surveys of families impacted by the 2013 floods, observations on site, and archival review. Comparative parameters of the study included natural and human causes of spring floods, effectiveness of spring flood mitigation and preparedness strategies, and the role of interagency communication and cooperation in flood risk reduction. The analysis revealed that spring flood risk in Galena and Edeytsy results from complex interactions among a series of natural processes and human actions that generate conditions of hazard, exposure, and vulnerability. Therefore, flood risk in Galena and Edeytsy can be reduced by managing conditions of ice-jam floods, and decreasing exposure and vulnerability of the at-risk populations. Implementing the Pressure and Release model to analyze the vulnerability progression of Edeytsy and Galena points to common root causes at the two research sites, including colonial heritage, unequal distribution of resources and power, top-down governance, and limited inclusion of local communities in the decision-making process. To construct an appropriate flood risk reduction framework it is important to establish a dialogue among the diverse stakeholders on potential solutions, arriving at a range of top-down and bottom-up initiatives and in conjunction selecting the appropriate strategies. Both communities have progressed in terms of greater awareness of the hazard, reduction in vulnerabilities, and a shift to more reliance on shelter-in-place. However, in neither community have needed improvements in levee protection been completed. Dialogue between outside authorities and the community begins earlier and is more intensive for Edeytsy, perhaps accounting for Edeytsy's more favorable rating of risk management and response than Galena's.
Thesis (Ph.D.) University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2017
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