Hundreds of millions of people live on river deltas around the world, making them central to rich diversity in culture and thriving economies. As deltas face environmental degradation and ongoing climate change, governments have sought ever more drastic measures to prevent flooding and protect society and its infrastructure.

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But, these policies can harm the natural environment and lead to loss of precious land. Striking a balance between limiting deltaic land loss and maximizing cultural and economic benefit to society is a top priority in sustainability policy.

Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin and Texas Tech University created a novel analysis tool that seeks to protect the millions of people living on urban river deltas, while preserving the environmental and commercial viability of these landscapes. Their study, published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, applies a cost-benefit model to the concept of delta management, for the first time, by examining how to balance the natural function of river deltas with societal desire for landscape stability.

"By restricting river channels on deltas, we have limited the delivery of sediment to the coast where it is needed to sustain land in the face of rising sea level,” said Andrew Moodie, lead author of the paper and a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellow working in associate professor Paola Passalacqua’s lab in the Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering in the Cockrell School of Engineering. “The irony here is that by preventing the river from flooding naturally, we have exacerbated land loss, and in the long run, made society more susceptible to catastrophic floods.”

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