Risk and Profit in the Floodplain Game
Floodplains are increasingly becoming areas of contention as the ever-expanding forces of urbanization and development profiteering place more buildings in harm's way. One overall difficulty with the situation is that it is floodplain developers (meaning the entire development mechanism: builders, bankers, realtors, etc.) need only meet certain minimum requirements. These requirements (for building in the so-called "100-year floodplain") are interpreted at the local level and with great variation from place to place, and are often entirely irrespective of the specific regional flood risks of the area. After the building is developed and sold (and the mortgages and tax profit streams are established), the real risks are passed on the building owner.
This is not to say there are not conscientious developers, but our system generally favors development of floodplains with too little consideration of the financial devastation (or even death) that can occur to the inhabitants.
The inhabitants (homeowners) often worsen this cycle by fighting floodplain regulations that can lower their property value and require they buy flood insurance.
Municipalities have a vested interest in floodplain development since they derive income from taxes on more homes in their jurisdiction, whether it be low income housing crammed into low lying areas or higher-priced homes along precious waterfront property.
On top of this much of our country has homes and building that were built in floodplains before our current flood insurance system was established in 1968. This means that many people can ask for argue for various exemptions and raise the banner of "property rights." This subject is so politically taboo that state and federal governments rarely enforce existing rules about such development.
You're On Your Own!
The bottom line is: when it comes to flood risks: you are on your own. You need to take actions to protect yourself while being aware of the larger forces that can cloud the basic issue (such as the profit motives stated above): Here are some simple facts to consider:
#1. All houses placed in a floodplain will be flooded at some point in time!
#2. It is not uncommon that a house will be flooded repeatedly in a short span of years.
#3. There are many scenarios where entire neighborhoods are in harm's way.
#3. Tens of thousands of American citizens will be affected every year.
#4. Many of people living near (though not technically in) floodplains will also be flooded.
#5. Homeowners insurance covers most everything but flood damage. A flood can easily devastate you financially if you don't have flood insurance.
#6. Get flood insurance!
What You Can Do:
Talk to your city's floodplain or drainage representative about your individual risk. Request a home visit for an inspection and explaination of the local drainage patterns. Obtain a city map of your local watershedwith a clear indication where floodwater is likely to go. (Know, however, that the impact may not be marked
Monitor upstream development that might cause runoff to gather more quickly, increasing your danger.
What will wash away and
Enquire about buyout programs if your home is in a known floodplain, especially if it is in a dangerous part of the floodplain.
If you do live in or near a floodplain, store valuables off-site or as high as possible.
Have a plan for exactly what you will take if you have a few minutes notice.