Special Thanks to Joel Scata with Natural Resources Defense Council for this great summary on how
YOU can continue to help implement the Federal Flood Risk Management Standards.
In January 2015, President Obama issued Executive Order 13690 (EO 13690), updating federal policy concerning floodplain development and establishing the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard (standard). EO 13690 reemphasizes and expands upon the intentions of previous federal flood policy by directing agencies “to avoid to the extent possible the long and short-term adverse impacts associated with the occupancy and modification of floodplains and to avoid direct or indirect support of floodplain development wherever there is a practicable alternative.” Under EO 13690, federal agencies are not only required to minimize their impacts on our nation’s floodplains and but must also account for the effects of climate change in their siting and design planning if funding construction projects in a floodplain.
EO 13690 and the standard will protect people and property, reduce disaster costs by avoiding future damages, preserve riverine and coastal floodplains, and save taxpayer dollars over the long-term. The standard requires federal projects be built smarter, safer, and where options for siting are limited, higher and stronger, ensuring that they last as long as intended. Per the standard, if avoiding building in a floodplain is not practicable, agencies must build one of the following three safety benchmarks:
- Climate – Informed Science Approach: Use the best available climate science data to determine future flood conditions, and elevate structures above that future flood level (the preferred method for agencies to apply if the information is available);
- Freeboard Value Approach: Elevate structures and facilities two feet for standard projects and three feet for critical projects above the 100-year flood level;
- 500-Year Elevation: Elevate to the 500-year flood level (a flood with a 0.2 percent chance of occurring in any given year).
Further, EO 13690 is a significant step forward for protecting our floodplains and preserving habitat.
The executive order requires agencies, where possible, use natural systems and green infrastructure when developing alternatives to constructing in a floodplain. The preservation of the natural and beneficial values of floodplains offers numerous co-benefits. Floodplain and coastal zones help stabilize our shorelines and riverbanks, provide important habitat for wildlife, control erosion, and improve water quality by filtering out pollutants.
Preserving the function of our nation’s floodplains and requiring federal project be built smarter and safer are necessary updates to federal flood policy as climate change will exacerbate our nation’s susceptibility to disastrous flood events. According to the United States Global Change Research Program, the impacts and costliness of weather disasters, like flooding, are increasing; events considered “rare” today will become more common in the future due to climate change. And damages from flooding are already considerable. Flooding has cost the U.S. economy an estimated $260 billion over the past 30 years.
Annual damages from flooding are now averaging $10 billion, up from $5.6 billion per year in the mid-1990s. FEMA, alone, has spent $48.6 billion in Public Assistance Grants between 1998 and 2014 in the wake of floods. As climate change raises sea levels and alters precipitation patterns, coastal areas and riverine communities will become increasingly susceptible to flooding, potentially magnifying the cost to repair public infrastructure. Enacting resiliency polices, like the EO 13690 and the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard, are crucial for reducing our nation’s exposure to future flood risk.
In October 2015, final guidelines directing federal agencies on how to implement Executive Order 13690 were issued. Agencies now must revise their regulations and operating procedures to incorporate the requirements of the executive order. As the final guidelines are only advisory, agencies have discretion in how they incorporate EO 13690 and the FFRMS. Thus, over the course of the next year, the Water Protection Network members have an opportunity to use their strength as advocates to influence how agencies choose to implement the executive order and the standard.
Already, many Water Protection Network members have come out in support of a strong interpretation of the executive order and the standard. Last year, several members added their names to sign-on letters and directly lobbied Congress to explain the need for these standards and benefits. As a result of these actions, WPN members helped successfully fend off efforts by Congress to block the implementation of the Standard.
Yet, more still needs to be done
Water Protection Network members need to maintain pressure on federal agencies, like the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to ensure that they are faithfully implementing the standard in manner that will minimize harm to our nation’s floodplains and do not encourage floodplain development.