State to receive stimulus funding for critical flood planning data

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PROVIDENCE, RI – April 15, 2010 –The Nature Conservancy and the University of Rhode Island announced today that the State of Rhode Island along with five other northeastern states has been awarded funding from the U.S. Geological Survey to develop highly detailed data that will be used to plan for future flooding. The funding is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Rhode Island component of the project will be managed by the University of Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Geographic Information System (RIGIS).

The grant is for $1.4 million for this $2.7 million project. It is estimated that the project will cost $300,000 in Rhode Island and that about $60,000-$80,000 would be from the grant, with the remainder to come from transportation funding and private funding to be raised by the Conservancy.

“Better data about our coastlines and rivers will help emergency management agencies plan for the next big storm,” said Kathleen Wainwright, the Conservancy’s Director of Conservation Programs, “These data will also help identify key natural areas to preserve so they can function as buffers between floodwaters and infrastructure such as roads and buildings.”

The data, known as Light Detection and Ranging, or “LiDAR,” provides very high resolution elevation information, so that flood waters can be more accurately modeled by computers. Current elevation information is accurate only to within about three feet, but LiDAR information is accurate to within 15 centimeters (about six inches). When planning for flooding, this increased accuracy can be the difference between a flooded road and a safe road.

“This information is long overdue for Rhode Island,” says Charles LaBash, Director of the Environmental Data Center at the University of Rhode Island. “And it will be available for a wide array of uses, from emergency management, to infrastructure siting, to natural resources planning.” The data will be available through the RIGIS website at

The Nature Conservancy believes that using this information will help the State, cities and towns, and environmental groups to better protect natural areas that protect people and properties from flooding. Rhode Island has 420 miles of coastline and two-thirds of the state’s population lives in one of 21 coastal communities, threatened by increased storms and flooding, according to several climate change studies.

The Nature Conservancy is contributing tens of thousands of private dollars to the project. It is the only non-governmental organization providing funding for this project in Rhode Island. For more information about the Conservancy and its work in Rhode Island go to