By Madeline Urbish
In a small room buried in the basement of the Department of Interior today, the Water Resources Council voted unanimously to approve the new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard put fourth by President Obama's Executive Order 13960. Additionally, the council unanimously voted to delegate authority for updating the standard at least every five years to the Mitigation Framework Leadership Group, removing the need for the council to vote on each change. Any changes in the standard will continue to be open for public comment.
The updated Federal Flood Risk Management Standard (FFRMS) requires all federally funded projects to incorporate one of three approaches to flood risk mitigation:
- Use the best available, actionable data and methods that use current and future changes in flooding based on climate science
- Build to two or three feet above the 100-year or 1% annual chance flood line
- Build to the 500-year or 0.2% annual chance flood line
Federal projects are defined as new construction, substantial improvements, or substantial destruction that is funded with federal money. Additionally, agencies are given discretion in determining which approach to use. Importantly, the directive calls on agencies to give preference to natural systems, ecosystem processes, and nature-based approaches in developing alternatives for projects. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) are available to federal agency for consultation on resiliency standards.
FEMA hosted eight listening sessions for public input across the country during the public comment period for the updated FFRMS, which was extended to 90 days. According to FEMA's representative at the Water Resources Council meeting today, FEMA received approximately 2,700 issue-specific comments. The comments included concerns over the scope and applicability of the standard, the cost and implications of implementing it, the impact of the standard on the National Flood Insurance Program, consistency in implementation across agencies, and the level of local and state government involvement in developing the standard.
The representative from FEMA assured members of the meeting that the new FFRMS would have no impact on the National Flood Insurance Program. Additionally, he stated the new standard would not affect the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Federal Housing Administration loan requirements, nor would it affect U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulations. It is difficult to see how an expansion of the floodplain map will not affect these programs in the future, though it may be a delayed impact. By defining federal projects as new construction, substantial improvements, or substantial destruction, it is certainly plausible that federal funding for insurance or loan programs will remain unaffected. That being said, it is undeniable that updating the map to reflect current trends in sea level rise and flooding will have widespread impact in the long run.
The new standard will be posted FEMA's website this afternoon and will appear in the Federal Register within the next week. The federal agencies affected by the new standard will develop and issue their own implementation rules and guidance, some of which will be subject to another round of public input. We will continue to monitor this topic as it moves into the implementation phase.
For more information, contact Madeline Urbish at firstname.lastname@example.org.