What You Can Learn from Your
State’s Response to Increased Flooding
Hurricane season is upon us, and states along the Atlantic coast have already faced three named storms that brought flooding. But hurricanes and other storms aren’t the only flood events coastal and riverside areas need to worry about. According to the NOAA, rising sea levels are causing coastal flooding even without the presence of storms, and it’s a problem that gets worse every year.
This type of flooding started to emerge about two decades ago, and now it’s quite prevalent: high tides regularly spill onto streets and out of storm drains in many coastal communities. According to PEW, flood-related disasters have cost the United States more than $845 billion over the past twenty years.
In response, a handful of states are investing millions in flood mitigation efforts in communities at risk of rising sea levels along coasts and rivers. But with a growing number of flood-prone areas and flood frequency, it’s challenging for states to keep up with their plans without the right help from the federal government.
Let’s take a closer look at what some states are doing to improve their flood preparation and mitigation programs, and what homeowners can learn from these efforts.
States historically have not invested much of their own money in flood mitigation. They typically apply for mitigation grants through FEMA. Or, according to Laura Lightbody, the director of the flood resiliency program at the Pew Charitable Trusts, “[They] wait for something to happen and then just get money from the federal government.”
But with ever-increasing flood risk, states are finding that this doesn’t cut it anymore. More flooding means more demand for FEMA funding. Although Congress increased funding for pre-disaster mitigation projects after the devastating 2017 hurricane season, there’s still not enough for every community that wants – and needs – to prepare for floods.
“The resources at the federal level are really not sufficient for states to be able to go out and do what they want to do before a disaster happens,” Lightbody told NPR in June.
That’s why Virgina started its Community Flood Preparedness Fund, which launched in July. It sets aside $45 million a year for flood mitigation projects. Texas created a new $800 million flood infrastructure fund, while Tennessee, West Virginia, and North Carolina all created new state departments to study flood risk and help officials allocate state money to fund mitigation projects. South Carolina’s government is currently reviewing a flood mitigation loan fund.
Flood mitigation projects that these states might tackle with these programs include:
- Updates to current infrastructure, such as levees and dams
- Construction of new infrastructure, such as drainage and retention systems
- Restoration of natural habitats, such as wetlands and floodplains, that mitigate flooding
- Updates to local flood maps, which are often outdated
- Project planning and flood risk studies
- High-risk property acquisition
- Warning systems and educational campaigns
These programs look different based on each state’s unique geography and what infrastructure is already in place, but it’s worth looking at your state’s current flood mitigation program.
We also recommend knowing your flood risk and ensuring that you have the right flood insurance coverage, wherever you live. Contact your agent for a flood insurance quote today!
To prepare for flooding in your area, here’s a list of publicly available resources and recommendations to guide your research:
- Check your state’s flood preparedness. Unfortunately, most states are not prepared for floods. This 2019 study assesses preparedness of individual states. You can also check your state’s website to see if it has a flood mitigation program or fund. It’s usually part of the state’s department of water resources.
- Learn how other communities have enacted and funded flood mitigation plans. These case studies are a great place to start.
- Learn what you can do to protect your own property. There are actions you can take to not only lower risk but save on flood insurance. FEMA has resources for protecting your property and retrofitting your home.
- Review your state’s or locale’s flood emergency response plan. You can sign up for FEMA’s Preparedness Portal to get started.
- Create a personal flood emergency response plan. This FEMA brochure provides guidance, but you should always check with local authorities as well.
- Study federal guidance on flood risk and climate change. This EPA resource on flood risk and this NRDC resource on flooding and climate change are good places to start.
Does this sound like more than you want to take on? If so, cut right to the chase and get help from licensed insurance agents who can help you calculate your flood risk today.
Frequently, the bulk of federal funds are sent to areas with the highest populations, highest valued land, and most recent major flood events, such as Houston and Charleston. But less populous, inland communities are experiencing increased flooding, too, and this means that state efforts are an increasingly important piece of the flood preparation puzzle.
Flood mitigation tends to have a high return on investment and benefits communities in myriad ways, from avoiding property loss to ecosystem benefits. You can use this tool, which gathered data from FEMA hazard mitigation grants from 1996 to 2016, to check FEMA’s investment in your state over the years – and how it’s paid off for residents.