Flood Risk Management (Online Course)

LD ARCH 119 and 229 is an online course offered Spring semester 2023 (lectures from January 18 – April 26), and is open to enrollment to students across the UC system via UC Online.  Lectures are Mondays and Wednesdays 11:00-12:30, with 1-hour discussion sections on Tuesday mornings.  The course is offered as an undergraduate class, LD ARCH 119, and as a graduate class LD ARCH 229.

The Challenge

Aftermath of the 2018 Montecito debris flows (Santa Barbara County)

Floods are the most expensive and one of the deadliest natural hazards in the US. As physical infrastructure ages and floods become more severe with climate change, our ability to manage and respond to floods is increasingly strained. Despite massive investments in structural measures to ‘control’ floods, losses from floods continue to increase, mostly because exposure has increased with expanded urban development on flood-prone lands, exacerbated by climate change intensifying the magnitude and frequency of extreme events.  California includes urban areas with among the highest flood risk in the US. While conceptualized conventionally as a static condition, in reality flood risk is dynamic and evolving – both in response to changes in hazard (physical processes producing floods and the performance of flood ‘control’ infrastructure), changes in exposure and vulnerability (development on flood-prone lands). Examples of the former are the increasing extent and severity of wildfires, because intense rains on burned areas produce higher runoff, sediment loads, and destructive debris flows, such as experienced in Santa Barbara in 2018.  Examples of the latter are new urban developments on flood-prone land, which still occur despite policies intended to discourage developments in such hazardous areas.

Conventional approaches to flood risk management have relied heavily on hard engineering structures (levees, dams, and engineered channels).  However, these structural measures can only reduce the hazard, not the exposure or vulnerability of the population, which often increases in response to the perception that floods are less likely. 

Course Description

This course explains fundamental concepts in flood risk management, summarizes the history and governance of flood management in California, the US, and globally, and tracks the development of state-of-the art approaches to assessing flood risk, equity implications, and utilizing nature-based solutions to sustainably manage floods.  The course covers not only on flood modeling and engineering, but also integrates cross-cutting themes such as equity, demographic trends, floodplain geomorphology, ecology, climate change, law, and governance.

The course draws upon faculty across the UC system, as well as the agency and practitioner community.  Collectively, the instructors have broad experience working directly with federal, state and local agencies on flood risk management issues, so the course content is well grounded in the realities of building, monitoring, and maintaining flood defense levees, emergency response to flooding, and efforts to limit land use on flood-prone lands.  

Course Structure

The course is offered as a synchronous online course at UC Berkeley, as both Landscape Architecture (LA) 119 and LA 229, at the undergraduate and graduate level respectively.  It is open to enrollments from across the UC system, and to practicing professionals and government agency staff via UC Extension Concurrent Enrollment.  The course is complementary to the online course EES 007, Addressing California’s Concurrent and Cascading Crises, led by David Zilberman, which addresses broader issues of disaster and resilience, and the online course Natural Hazards and Disasters (GEO 004, UC Riverside) taught by Prof David Oglesby (UCR) and Lisa Grant Ludwig (UCI), both of which are also open to enrollments across the UC system. 

The course meets for two 1.5-hour lecture classes per week (over 15 weeks), plus a 1-hour discussion section each week.  The graduate and undergraduate classes have common lectures and readings, but distinct discussion sections and a divergent set of requirements. 

LA119 satisfies the L&S Social Science breadth requirement.

Download Course Leaflet


For undergraduate students in LA119, the course requirements are short assignments throughout the term (40% of the course grade), a midterm (25%) a final exam (25%), and class participation (10%).  The short assignments include case studies in which teams of 2-3 students each work on case studies, specific sites that have been affected by flooding and for which they review information on the hazard, history of flooding, and history of flood control efforts and exposure to flooding.  As we address different aspects of the flood risk management cycle, the student teams will research these aspects of their case study, reporting to the class periodically throughout the semester.  Discussion sections will include discussion of readings and implications for understanding and managing floods.

For graduate students in LA229, the requirements are short assignments throughout the term (40%), a substantive term project involving original research on a topic in flood risk management, normally conducted as part of a team of two or three students (50%), and class participation (10%).  The short assignments include case studies done in teams as described above for LA119.  In most cases, the term project will be a synthesis paper building upon the analyses done for the case studies, but students also have the option to work on a different project of interest to them, for which they submit a proposal.

How to Enroll

Following is the most up-to-date information on enrollment:

Undergraduates: LDARCH 119Graduate Students: LDARCH 229
Berkeley undergraduates:
Register for LDARCH 119 using these course codes:
Lecture: 33252 (Mon/Wed 11am-12:30pm)
Discussion 101: 33253 (Tue 9am-10am)
Discussion 102: 33814 (Tue 10am-11am)

Undergraduates at other UC campuses:
Register for LDARCH 119 through UC Online
using these course codes:
Lecture: 33289 (Mon/Wed 11am-12:30pm)
Discussion UC11: 33794 (Tue 9am-10am)
Discussion UC12: 33815 (Tue 10am-11am)
Berkeley graduate students:
Register for LDARCH 229 using these course codes:
Lecture: 33255 (Mon/Wed 11am-12:30pm)
Discussion 101: 33256 (Tue 11am-noon)

Graduate students at other UC campuses:
Register via the Intercampus Exchange Program using the course codes for LDARCH 229 above.

Practicing professionals and agency staff:
Register via UC Extension Concurrent Enrollment using the course codes for LDARCH 229 above.