Common-sense flood reforms would save lives and billions of dollars
The devastation of Hurricanes Irma, Harvey, and Maria have made it painfully clear that common sense flood reforms are a necessity.
Earlier this year, NOAA reported that weather related disasters cost the U.S. $306 billion last year, the highest on record. Flooding is now the most common and costliest natural disaster in our country -- it threatens lives, erodes financial well-being, and interrupts daily life in our communities.
Unfortunately, it's only getting worse. Along the Mississippi River in Illinois, three of the six largest floods have occurred in the past 10 years.
To address this rising challenge across Illinois, floodplain managers, emergency personnel, planners and elected leaders have worked hard to protect our communities against flooding.
It has been a huge success. By strictly regulating new floodplain development, raising or demolishing homes that are repeatedly flooded, working with partners to create better maps and investing in flood mitigation projects, Illinois residents are now safer when the next storm hits.
Because of our efforts, Illinois has seen the nation's largest reduction in repeat-loss properties, properties that have been rebuilt twice in any 10-year period since 1978. That success is something other states could learn from. Nationwide, there are more than 150,000 properties that have repeatedly flooded and the National Flood Insurance Program required a $16 billion bailout last fall.
In Washington, Congress is making attempts to remedy the situation. In the fall, the House of Representatives passed a bill to modernize the National Flood Insurance Program. Their legislation includes provisions that make sure that communities that flood repeatedly have plans to mitigate the riskiest areas. It also provides future homeowners and renters the ability to have a better understanding of flood risk by mandating the disclosure of this important information. And, boldly, it proposes limiting the government's exposure to the riskiest and costliest properties.
Unfortunately, the House missed key opportunities to reduce future disaster costs by investing more in flood mitigation and mapping capabilities so we can be better prepared for the next flooding event. The National Institute of Building Sciences recently released a new report showing that along the state's rivers and streams, we save nearly $7 for every $1 spent on flood mitigation programs.
Fortunately, as the Senate considers its own legislation to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program, there is already a solution that would increase investment in mitigation. A new bipartisan proposal, the State Flood Mitigation Revolving Fund Act of 2017, capitalizes on savings from mitigation and would create a new federal-state partnership in the form of a revolving loan fund.
This self-replenishing and sustainable fund would provide low-interest loans to communities, homeowners, businesses and nonprofits for preparations such as elevating structures, buying out properties in high-risk areas, and other flood mitigation activities.
As we taxpayers may spend upward of $100 billion in response to the flooding this past fall, it only makes sense for our elected leaders to support initiatives that help break the cycle of paying to rebuild again and again.
Flood loss reduction through strong regulations and proactive mitigation is a lesson we have learned here in Illinois, and with help, other states could make flood mitigation a higher priority. But we need elected leaders in Congress to step up and support our communities as flooding becomes a bigger challenge.
Dallas Alley, CFM, is the building and zoning director in Swansea and recipient of the 2015 Illinois Floodplain Manager of the Year Award,