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Monday, October 24, 2016

by Theodoric Meyer, ProPublica

As the United States grows warmer and extreme weather more common, the federal government’s flood-insurance maps are becoming increasingly important.

The maps, drawn by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), dictate the monthly premiums millions of American households pay for flood insurance. They are also designed to give homeowners and buyers the latest understanding of how likely their communities are to flood.

The government’s response to the rising need for accurate maps? It’s slashed funding for them.

Congress has cut funding for updating flood maps by more than half since 2010, from $221 million down to $100 million this year. And the president’s latest budget request would slash funding for mapping even further to $84 million — a drop of 62 percent over the last four years.

In a little-noticed written response to questions from a congressional hearing, FEMA estimated the cuts would delay its map program by three to five years. The program “will continue to make progress, but more homeowners will rely on flood hazard maps that are not current,” FEMA wrote.

The cuts have slowed efforts to update flood maps across the country.

In New England, for instance, FEMA is updating coastal maps but has put off updating many flood maps along the region’s rivers, said Kerry Bogdan, a senior engineer with FEMA’s floodplain mapping program in Boston.

“Unfortunately, without the money to do it, we’re limited and our hands are kind of tied,” she said.

Many of the flood maps in Vermont — including areas near Lake Champlain that have recently flooded — are decades out of date. “There are definitely communities that really need that data,” said Ned Swanberg, the flood-hazard mapping coordinator with Vermont’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

Asked about the cuts, a spokesman for the White House’s Office of Management and Budget directed us to  FEMA, which did not respond to our requests for comment.

New maps can guide development toward areas that are less likely to flood. They also tend to be far more accurate. Today’s mapmakers can take advantage of technologies including lidar, or laser radar, and ADCIRC, a computer program that’s used to model hurricane storm surge. They can also incorporate more years of flooding data into their models.

“It is disconcerting to have counties and areas where people still have maps from the 1970s,” said Suzanne Jiwani, a floodplain mapping engineer with Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources.

The slashed funding for the mapping program hasn’t gone unnoticed in Congress.

Rep. David E. Price, a North Carolina Democrat on the House Appropriations subcommittee that is responsible for FEMA’s budget, told W. Craig Fugate, the FEMA administrator, at a hearing in March of 2012 that FEMA’s budget “continues to lowball funding” for updating the country’s flood maps.

“Both Republican and Democratic administrations have generally made inadequate requests for Flood Hazard Mapping and Risk Analysis funding, and under the Republican majority, funding provided has been inadequate,” Price said in a statement to ProPublica.

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Copyright 2013 The National Memo
  • Ideology and political priorities have always been more important for politicians than the welfare of the people. I find it hard to believe that people whose main task is to protect their country and improve our standard of living are more inclined to compromise our personal security in the pursuit of spending and debt reductions caused by our refusal to pay for what we need. When are our national leaders going to have the courage to tell their constituents that if we want the most powerful military in the world, good social programs, the best air traffic control system in the world; safe food, water and medications, medical care and education accessible to all, making more progress in scientific research in a few decades than any other country since the beginning of mankind and other endeavors that set us apart from other countries we must be willing to pay for it. Cutting funding for endeavors designed to minimize the impact of natural disasters is not the way to go.

    • Urbane_Gorilla

      Well stated!

    • charleo1

      If there were a mountain, all political hopefuls must climb.
      And, atop this mountain, sat the Grand Magi of American
      politics. And, if they were lucky, and after swearing them
      to secrecy, upon penalty of losing all campaign funding.
      He would impart the secret. Without which, no one has
      ever entered, this, alluring, dark, and enigmatic, nether-
      world, of politics. The magic key, The Magi tells them.
      Is always tell the people exactly, what they want to hear.
      Tell them, I will cut your taxes. I will balance the budget.
      I will bring you good jobs. And, I will equip the finest military,
      to protect you. The finest doctors to care for you. The best
      teachers, and schools, to educate your children. The finest
      roads, airports, and trains, so you may travel in safety, and
      comfort. And if misfortune should befall you. You may count
      on me, to be your friend! And I will do all these things. And,
      I will do them so much better, than my opponent.
      And, it won’t cost you a dime!

    • Sand_Cat

      I don’t mean to be merciless, but the government should never have gotten into the business of “insuring” people who build on barrier islands and in known flood zones, and especially people who simply re-build in the same place after their property is washed away in the perfectly predictable and inevitable flood. That said, they shouldn’t be cutting these maps, and if they kept them up-to-date, maybe some help could be offered to people who are in newly-designated flood zones as a result of the climate change many of them are busy denying.
      But the Republicans want to cut, and – although I realize some pragmatism is warranted – the president seems all too willing to comply, despite the fact that, as we all know, he’s a member of the “far left” [of the conservative movement].

      • ralphkr

        I remember listening to some businessmen discussing all the flood damage after what was basically a hurricane hit California causing immense damage and flooding. They were denigrating the people who had built homes in what became a flood plain for asking for help and for not just moving to another area.

        Then someone mentioned a popular restaurant that had been badly damaged. Said restaurant and neighboring businesses were between 4 and 8 feet above normal high tide and just 30 to 40 yards from the ocean. Needless to say, all the businessmen were unanimous in their praise for the courage of their fellow businessmen’s efforts to reopen their flood prone businesses.

    • CPAinNewYork

      I find it difficult to believe that little Holland several hundred years ago discovered that if you want to keep out water you build a dam, but powerful, technological giant America needs a study to figure out a solution.

      This has to be somebody’s joke gone wild. What are our “leaders” waiting for? Build sea walls and stop with the studies, you clowns.