Assessing the full costs of floodplain buyouts

Clim Change. 2021;168(1-2):3. doi: 10.1007/s10584-021-03178-x. Epub 2021 Sep 14.


Given projected increases in flood damages, managed retreat strategies are likely to become more widespread. Voluntary buyouts, where governments acquire flood-damaged properties and return the sites to open space, have been the primary form of federally funded retreat in the USA to date. However, little attention has been paid to the cost structure of buyout projects. Using a transaction cost framework, we analyze the costs of activities that comprise floodplain buyouts. Federal data do not distinguish transaction costs, but they do suggest that the cost of purchasing properties often accounts for 80% or less of total project costs. Through a systematic review (n = 1103 publications) and an analysis of government budgets (across n = 859 jurisdiction-years), we find limited sources with relevant cost information, none of which reports transaction costs. The absence of activity-level cost data inhibits more targeted policy reform to support community-driven and efficient buyout programs. Better data collection and reporting can inform more impactful and equitable buyout policy.

Keywords: Climate adaptation; Environmental finance; Flood policy; Floodplain buyouts; Hazard mitigation; Municipal finance.