Guest Opinions

If our lawmakers reform flood insurance, it will save lives and billions of dollars

Ice and water flood near evacuated homes along the Weiser River in February 2017.
Ice and water flood near evacuated homes along the Weiser River in February 2017.

With a year of unprecedented flooding along the Boise River behind us and our nation witnessing the devastation of Hurricanes Irma, Harvey and Maria, it’s clearer now, more than ever, that we need common-sense reforms that help our communities address this rising problem.

Just recently, NOAA reported that weather-related disasters (including flooding) cost the U.S. $306 billion in 2017, the highest on record. Flooding is now the country’s most common and costliest natural disaster. It threatens lives, erodes financial well-being and interrupts daily life in our communities. As the former floodplain manager for Ada County, I am heartened by how our community responded last spring to more than 100 straight days of flooding, but I also know that long term we need to develop solutions that recognize the increasing severity of storms and flood events.

Congress is making attempts to remedy the situation. In the fall, the House of Representatives passed a bill to modernize the National Flood Insurance Program, set to expire soon. The legislation included provisions that make sure that communities that flood repeatedly have mitigation plans to address the most risky areas. It also provides future homeowners and renters the ability to have a better understanding of a property’s flood risk and history by mandating the disclosure of this important information. And, boldly, it proposes limiting the government’s exposure to the riskiest and costliest properties.

Unfortunately, the House missed key opportunities to help the United States put a down payment on future disaster costs by investing more in flood mitigation before the rain and water come. The National Institute of Building Sciences released a new report showing that we all save $7 for every $1 spent on flood mitigation.

Fortunately, as the Senate considers its own legislation to reauthorize the NFIP, led by our own Sen. Mike Crapo who chairs the Banking Committee, there is already a solution that seeks to increase the ability for states and communities to invest in mitigation. A new bipartisan proposal, the State Flood Mitigation Revolving Fund Act of 2017, capitalizes on savings from mitigation and would create a new federal-state partnership in the form of a revolving loan fund. This self-replenishing and sustainable fund would provide low-interest loans to communities, homeowners, businesses and nonprofits for preparations such as elevating structures, buying out properties in high-risk areas and other flood-mitigation activities.

As we taxpayers may spend upward of $100 billion in response to the flooding last fall, I call on our senators to help break the costly cycle of paying to rebuild again and again instead of investing in flood mitigation before disaster strikes.

As a floodplain manager who understands flood risk, I call on our senators to include common-sense reforms to the National Flood Insurance Program reauthorization that will reduce flood risk and better prepare our citizens and communities.

Congress has the ability to make long-term improvements to our nation’s preparedness and response to flooding. The time is now, especially before the memories of 2017’s flooding recede.

Angie Gilman is a former Ada County engineer/floodplain administrator and currently serves as the Idaho state rep for the Northwest Regional Floodplain Management Association.