Flooding & Floodplains

Floodplain Management

Throughout history, people have settled next to waterways because of the advantages they offer in transportation, commerce, energy, water supply, soil fertility, and waste disposal. In spite of these benefits, however, our historic attraction to settling along rivers and steams in not without its drawbacks. Floods have caused a greater loss of life and property, and have disrupted more families and communities in the United States than all other natural hazards combined. The United States, as it moves into the 21st century, is at a crossroads in the use of its floodplains. The nation may choose to use these flood-prone lands for the primary purpose of economic development, or it may take action to better balance their economic and environmental outputs. 

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Floodplain management is defined as a decision making process that aims to achieve the wise use of the Nation's floodplains. Floodplain management aims to achieve a reduction in the loss of life, disruption, and damage cause by floods; and the preservation and restoration of the natural resources and functions of floodplains (which, in turn, lessen damage potential). To achieve the goals of floodplain management, the nation must adopt a new approach- one that takes full advantage of all methods available to reduce vulnerabilities to damages and, in parallel, to protect and enhance the natural resources and functions of the floodplain. This approach would achieve floodplain management through: avoiding the risks of the floodplain, minimizing the impacts of those risks when they cannot be avoided; mitigating the impacts of damages when they occur; and accomplishing the above in a manner that concurrently protects and enhances the natural environment. 

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) has played a critical role in fostering and accelerating the principles of floodplain management. Flood insurance is available to flood-prone communities through the NFIP, which is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Prior to the NFIP, flood insurance was generally unavailable from the private sector and most State and communities did not regulate floodplain development. Dependence was instead placed on the construction of flood control projects such as levees, dams, and channels to reduce flood damage. Despite the expenditures of billions of dollars for these flood control projects, annual flood damages and disaster assistance costs were increasing at a rapid pace. In response to this worsening situation, congress created the NFIP in 1968 to reduce flood losses and disaster relief cost by guiding future development away from flood hazard areas where practicable, requiring flood resistant design and construction, and transferring costs of losses to floodplain occupants through flood insurance premiums.

The NFIP was broadened and modified by the Flood Disaster Protection Act of 1973, which requires the purchase of flood insurance as a condition for receiving any form of Federal or federally related financial assistance, such as mortgages loans from federally insured lending institutions. The NFIP has mapped floodplains in over 20,000 communities and over 18,400 communities now participate in the program. Many States and communities have established floodplain management programs and adopted floodplain management statutes and regulations that go beyond NFIP requirements. 

The National Flood Insurance Reform Act (NFIRA), signed into law in 1994, strengthened the NFIP by providing for mitigation insurance and establishing a grant program for State and community flood mitigation planning projects. The NFIRA also codified the Community Rating System (CRS), established objectives for CRS and directs that credits may be given to communities that implement measures to protect natural and beneficial floodplain functions and manage the erosion hazard. The CRS is an incentive program whereby communities that exceed the minimum requirements of the NFIP secure reductions in the flood insurance premiums for their residents. Approximately 940 communities are currently participating in CRS. The policies in the CRS communities represent over 60 percent of all NFIP flood insurance policies currently in place. 

Examples of flood mitigation include elevating homes and business above the base flood (a flood having a percent chance of being equaled or exceeded in a given year), relocating homes out of the floodplain, and minimizing the vulnerability to flood damage through both structural and nonstructural means. 

Individuals and business owners can protect themselves from flood losses by purchasing flood insurance through National Flood Insurance Program. Standard homeowner's policies do not cover flood damage. Information is available through local insurance agents and emergency management offices.