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Flood Programs Adapt for Climate Change


Flood Programs Adapt for Climate Change

By: Adam M. Matheny

Climate Change is More and More Common

Flooding throughout the Midwest caused extreme levels of damage last year, leading to levees being breached, farms being submerged, and entire communities being stranded. During the worst of this flooding more than 60% of the lower 48 states faced higher than typical flood risks. Climate change is making events like this more and more common.

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is critical for the United States’ ability to address the increasing threat of flood devastation, due to the fact that it is the primary source of flood insurance and mapping data. As it is currently structured, however, the NFIP is not really prepared to meet these needs if they continue to become more urgent.

Recommendations from the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law

In an article in the Environmental Law Reporter, the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council, made the following suggestions:

  1. Expand the discounts for buyouts program to encourage more property owners to move out of flood risk areas. These programs provide homeowners with discounted flood insurance premiums contingent on the promise that they will accept a buyout in the event that their home is damaged by a flood.
  2. Speed up compliance with development requirements for properties in floodplains. Encourage communities to adopt expanded standards for “substantial damage” and “substantial improvement.”
  3. Make the data on flood damages and the costs of policies, data on properties that flood repeatedly, and community participation in relevant programs more widely available. This can be accomplished by having FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management System) disseminate their data more freely and require states to enforce flood risk disclosure policies.
  4. In addition to the above, improve data monitoring and collection and provide states and local governments with additional resources to implement NFIP regulations.

The NFIP, in recent years, has been reauthorized numerous times without reform. While it is important that reauthorization happen speedily to prevent lapses in the program, it is just as important to address the program’s need to evolve to meet the threats that climate change poses. The recommendations above are a good start—but more will need to be done.

The legislative branch of the federal government is going to have to push the program into using rates based on risk. The program needs to provide assistance to lower income homeowners to ensure that coverage is adequate. Finally, FEMA needs to have the authority to address outdated flood maps so that they better reflect the realities imposed by rising sea levels and other issues caused by climate change.

There is no longer time to wait—the NFIP must be reformed, and quickly, to address increasing flood damages nationwide.

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