Ahead of Spring Storms, Durbin & Quigley Call for Study of Urban Flooding
[WASHINGTON, DC] – With the spring storm season approaching, and extreme weather events increasing in severity and frequency, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (IL-05) wrote to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director Craig Fugate today to ask that the agency “quickly initiate…a nationwide study focusing on the prevalence, causes, and costs of urban flooding.”
Congress directed FEMA to conduct a study of urban flooding and flood damage under a provision included in the Fiscal Year 2016 Omnibus Appropriations Act. The provision was based on legislation Durbin and Quigley introduced in June 2015 to address increased flooding in urban communities and to find solutions for the urban communities impacted.
“Urban flooding has been a reoccurring, prevalent concern in the state of Illinois, where increasingly destructive storms have pummeled through our cities at alarming rates. Chicago alone has seen three “hundred year floods” in the past five years,” the Members wrote. “The current flood insurance program focuses almost entirely on designated floodplains along rivers, not in urban areas. Without the necessary research to determine effective strategies to reduce urban flooding, Illinois communities and taxpayers will continue having to pay for the high price of these disasters.”
In June 2015, Durbin and Quigley introduced the bicameral Urban Flooding Awareness Act, which included a provision – later passed into law as part of the Fiscal Year 2016 Omnibus Appropriations Act – requiring FEMA, in coordination with related Federal agencies, to conduct a nationwide study of urban flooding and flood damage. The goal is to analyze existing storm water management programs and craft policies and strategies to encourage the design and use of the best possible flood prevention practices, with a focus on rapid, low-cost approaches. This study will be the first of its kind to comprehensively analyze individual and societal costs associated with urban flooding and evaluate best practices to mitigate urban flooding across the country.
In October 2015, Durbin and Quigley met at the Center for Neighborhood Technology with Chicago residents whose homes or businesses have flooded as a result of urban flooding.
The full text of the Members’ letter to FEMA is copied below.
March 9, 2016
The Honorable Craig Fugate
Federal Emergency Management Agency
500 C Street, SW
Washington, D.C. 20472
Dear Administrator Fugate:
As Members of the Senate and House Appropriations Committees, we write to bring to your attention a Congressional mandate that was signed into law as part of the Fiscal Year 2016 Omnibus Appropriations Act (Pub. L. No. 114-113) that directs the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to conduct a nationwide study focusing on the prevalence, causes, and costs of urban flooding. In light of this directive, we urge you to quickly initiate the requested study and ask that you provide our offices with clear guidelines on the design, implementation, and timeline for its completion.
Urban flooding has been a reoccurring, prevalent concern in the state of Illinois, where increasingly destructive storms have pummeled through our cities at alarming rates. Chicago alone has seen three “hundred year floods” in the past five years. These storms have threatened the quality of our drinking water, eroded river banks, and spread pollution. It also has brought tremendous amounts of property damage to Illinois homeowners and businesses, many of whom do not qualify for federal flood insurance because they do not reside in FEMA designated floodplains. A 2015 report by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources found that 92 percent of flood damage claims occurred outside of current floodplains.
The current flood insurance program focuses almost entirely on designated floodplains along rivers, not in urban areas. Without the necessary research to determine effective strategies to reduce urban flooding, Illinois communities and taxpayers will continue having to pay for the high price of these disasters. According to the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT), urban flooding cost tens of billions of dollars annually across the United States. Unfortunately, these costs will likely rise as precipitation increases as a result of climate change.
A FEMA and National Water Center-led study that evaluates the latest available research, laws, regulations, policies, best practices, procedures, and institutional knowledge regarding urban flooding will be invaluable to homeowners and businesses across the country. By conducting this study and reviewing the prevalence and costs associated with urban flooding, FEMA can help experts articulate the scope of the problem and develop solutions to protect our neighborhoods.
Thank you for your attention and consideration of this important request. We look forward to working with you to gain a better understanding of flooding in our cities and help our communities identify ways to protect our investments and our environment.
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