Major flooding has become an increasingly critical problem across the United States due to urbanization and rising sea levels. Such flooding is now involved in 90 percent of all natural disasters in the U.S., with average damages nearly doubling over the past two decades to more than $10 billion per year in the 2000s.
President Barack Obama took steps to address this matter head-on by issuing an executive order last year that would require federally owned or funded buildings and infrastructure be built to withstand more severe and sometimes fatal storms. This effort is critical to minimizing the costs, both monetary and human, of future floods.
But while severe floods are increasingly wreaking havoc throughout the country, Congress is inexplicably proposing to weaken Obama’s new rules. At a time when federal disaster policies are in need of serious reform, watering down these measures is unsafe.
The executive branch’s efforts to account for flooding in development decisions date back to a directive issued by President Jimmy Carter in 1977 requiring agencies to avoid development in flood plains whenever possible. Even that move, however, was narrow in scope: Rather than requiring stronger building standards, it simply tried to prevent construction in high-risk areas.