The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) proposed regulations Monday that would require companies and homeowners using federal funds on construction projects in flood-prone areas to build on higher ground—2 feet higher, in many cases.
The new FEMA regulations would essentially rewrite the current 100-year flood standard that has been used nationwide for the past 50 years since the national flood insurance program was adopted in the late 1960s. To qualify for that program, communities have required that buildings be at or above the elevation where a flood is calculated to rise once in 100 years.
The FEMA regulations provide several options for construction projects using federal funds in flood-prone areas:
- Build two feet above the 100-year floodplain level for standard projects
- Build 3 feet above for "critical action" projects such as hospitals or nursing homes
- Build to the 500-year floodplain
- Use the best available scientific models which often combine flood records with other factors like sea-level rise data.
Privately funded projects would not be affected.
FEMA said in its announcement that flooding is the most common and costly type of natural disaster in the United States, and floods are expected to be more frequent and more severe over the next century due in part to the projected effects of climate change. This proposed rule would ensure that FEMA Federally Funded Projects are designed to be resilient to both current and future flood risks.
Some groups are coming out in favor of the new regulations. R.J. Lehmann, senior fellow at R Street Institute said, “Disaster-related spending long has been a growing and unsustainable burden on U.S. taxpayers."
“Ensuring that taxpayer-funded investments are built to a standard that reduces future losses is common sense. Instead of continuing to rely on post-disaster spending, the country has to be forward thinking and help reduce risk to people, property and taxpayers," said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.
Other groups aren't as positive. The National Association of Home Builders are concerned the federal agencies will issue conflicting rules and cause confusion as to where a building can be located. "How will we know what is in and out of the floodplain?" asked Billie Kaumaya, NAHB's federal legislative director. "There's so many questions surrounding that."
A comment period on FEMA's proposed regulations will be open through Oct. 21. Other agencies are expected to issue their own regulations in the coming months to implement the executive order.