From Governing: Risky Waters. Everyone knows it is a bad idea to develop new developments on flood prone land. So why do we keep doing it?
It is not too often that both FEMA and Houston get some praise. See this article from the Houston Chronicle: FEMA praises Houston’s new floodplain regulations.
All new construction in the city’s floodplains will have to be built two feet above the projected water level in a 500-year storm throughout the 500-year floodplain, the area at risk of inundation in a storm with a 0.2 percent chance of happening in any given year. The rules will take effect Sept. 1.
“This is the type of proactive solution that will help Houston lead the way in preparing for potential crises,” said Kevin Hannes, federal coordinating officer for FEMA’s Texas recovery. “Keeping residents safe and creating resilient communities requires forward-thinking to lessen the impact of inevitable future weather events.”
From the NYTimes, In New York, Drawing Flood Maps Is a ‘Game of Inches’
As FEMA revises the maps to account for climate change, deciding who is in the flood zone will be a battle with millions of dollars at stake.
#1 – See this Wash Post article: Rise in government insurance rates to mirror rising waters, flood debt. Some excerpts from the article:
The government is slowly phasing out subsidized flood insurance for more than a million Americans with houses in flood zones who, in some cases, pay half the true commercial rate.
Some owners say they are angry because their houses near lakes, rivers, bays and oceans were much more affordable with cheap rates that will now increase by as much as 25 percent each year until the premiums equal the full risk of settling down on property mapped as a flood zone.
#2 – Check out the new report on flood insurance from the National Academy of Sciences:
Abstract of the report:
The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) within the Federal Emergency Management Agency faces dual challenges of maintaining affordable flood insurance premiums for property owners and ensuring that revenues from premiums and fees cover claims and program expenses over time. A new congressionally mandated report from the National Research Council, the operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences, found that these objectives are not always compatible and may, at times, conflict with one another. The report discusses measures that could make insurance more affordable for all policy holders and provides a framework for policymakers to use in designing targeted assistance programs.
Although there are multiple ways to measure the cost burden of flood insurance on property owners and renters, the report found that there are no objective definitions of affordability. Where Congress or FEMA determine insurance premiums to be unaffordable, households paying those premiums might be made eligible for assistance through the NFIP. The report says that it will be up to policymakers to select which households will receive assistance, the form and amount of assistance provided, how it will be provided, who will pay for the assistance, and how an assistance program will be administered.
As it often the case, the people affected by a major disaster who are not happy with the response and/or recovery efforts of the public sector want to see an independent review. A major review occurred in Christchurch N.Z after the 2011 earthquake there — see the NZ page of this blog for the full text of the Assessment report. And in the U.S. there were independent studies after Hurricane Katrina (there were several national level reports) and after Superstorm Sandy — a major report on recovery strategy is due out in a couple of weeks.
Now, the liberals in Calgary and elsewhere in Canada are calling for an independent study of the role and responsibilities of Alberta province with regard to response and flood policies. See: Liberal Leader Calling for Federal Flood Review.
Another article appeared today re covering the costs of recovery. Seems to me the issue of who pays for what is a matter that should have been decided long ago. Granted there will be special cases and exceptions for Calgary, but where was the plan for a major disaster and its aftermath? As the old saying goes, The aftermath of a disaster is not the time to exchange business cards.
Another addition to the collection of articles about why people make risky decisions. See:
Putting the Disaster in Natural Disasters: Why Many Choose to Live in Harm’s Way
It is human nature to sometimes resist and resent government regulations. Yet, if the appropriate flood mapping and floodplain management is not done by government, homeowners are left trying to make expensive plans and decisions in a void. At times citizens need public officials to determine risks and they want to be informed about them. Government is sometimes the right actor.
Some dramatic details in the aftermath of the major flood in Calgary, Alberta. Thanks to Pierre Picard for the citations.
- An article about the realities that 5,000 homeowners in the High Water community face when they live in a risky area – the floodplain in Calgary. See this story in the Calgary Herald.
- Here is another article that provides additional details. I cannot even imagine what a home would look like after being underwater for weeks. Small wonder the owners would like a buyout option.
Alberta Canada also is having a problem with a lack of current flood maps. See this article from the Edmonton Journal. Thanks to Franklin MacDonald for sending me these articles. The article quotes the late Gilbert White, who said,”Floods are an act of God, but flood losses are largely an act of man.”
As it true in both the U.S. and Canada, homeowners get very frustrated when they cannot determine where to rebuild, owing to old or no flood maps. One more article re this topic in Alberta.
NOTE: I have pointed out this problem to the Association of State Floodplain Managers, an organization that I think can be helpful to the Calgary folks as well as officials at the provincial and national level.