Flood Mitigation: An Investment in City Resilience

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A study conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit on the benefits of flood mitigation found that investment to make homes and infrastructure more flood-proof returns positive economic, environmental, and social benefits for communities. (Getty Images)

Working together with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), The Economist Intelligence Unit put together a socio-economic analysis to help local officials make a compelling argument to invest in flood mitigation programs.

American cities are increasingly at risk from storm surges caused by frequent, high precipitation weather patterns. Researchers from the University of South Florida found that, “with nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population residing in coastal areas, compound flooding can have devastating impacts for low-lying, densely populated and heavily developed regions when strong storm surge and high rainfall amounts occur together.”

Cities that have a large concentration of population in coastal areas that are also subject to potential devastating storm surges are taking steps to mitigate the risk of flooding. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit (the research and analysis division of The Economist Group), “The benefits of mitigation cannot be overstated. Community leaders are driven to take action to revitalize neighborhoods, improve public spaces, enhance public safety, and boost the city’s competitiveness.”

Working together with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), The Economist Intelligence Unit put together a socio-economic analysis to help local officials make a compelling argument to invest in flood mitigation programs. The study includes in-debt community case studies, state-by-state analysis, and key takeaways. The Economist looked at the mitigation efforts of 11 cities and counties: Elkader, Iowa; Shepherdsville, Kentucky; Austin, Minnesota; Jefferson County, Wisconsin; Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; Boston, Massachusetts; DeKalb County, Georgia; Cobb County, Georgia; St. Louis County, Missouri; Lemon Grove, California; and Hancock County, Mississippi.

The study provides real-life examples that highlight the benefits local communities received by implementing flood mitigation programs. These communities:

  • Avoided property losses
  • Avoided business & education interruption
  • Avoided loss of critical infrastructure
  • Revitalized neighborhoods
  • Improved public spaces
  • Enhanced public safety
  • Enjoyed ecosystem benefits
  • Increased competitiveness for the community

The analysis found that “the economic benefits from flood mitigation significantly outweigh the costs by as much as five to one.” However, funding flood mitigation is a challenge for many local governments. Fortunately, there are creative solutions and financing sources that can help local governments fund mitigation projects and ease the financial strain. Along with other governmental assistance programs through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), FEMA is working to reduce the financial burden for local governments.

One of the most direct benefits from flood mitigation is that communities could receive a significant discount of up to 45 percent on flood insurance rates. The Economist study found that “communities that invested to in mitigation improved their Community Rating System (CRS) class and received significant discounts on flood insurance, putting money back in the pockets of property owners.”

Next year, Congress will once again take up legislation to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) that is administered by FEMA. The program, which will expire in 2017, provides affordable flood insurance to millions of homes and business in flood zones. However, the program has come under considerable scrutiny because of the extensive flooding that has occurred over the past decade in many cities across the country; the insurance payouts from the excessive flooding are making the program unsustainable. Next year, Congress may consider changes to the program that could significantly raise flood insurance rates and increase the number of homeowners and businesses that need flood insurance.

NLC believes that Congress must reauthorize the NFIP and keep flood insurance rates affordable for primary, non-primary and business properties while balancing the fiscal solvency of the program. However, to reduce the risk of flooding, local governments need additional resources from the federal government to implement mitigation programs before a flood – not after.

About the Author: Yucel (u-jel) Ors is NLC’s Program Director of Public Safety and Crime Prevention. Through Federal Advocacy, he lobbies on behalf of cities around crime prevention, corrections, substance abuse, municipal fire policy, juvenile justice, disaster preparedness and relief, homeland security, domestic terrorism, court systems and gun control. Follow Yucel on Twitter at @nlcpscp.

Federal Advocacy Program Director