Friday, July 22, 2011

Flood-prone land likely to increase by 45% -- a major challenge to federal insurance program

Evan Lehmann in the New York Times via Climate Wire: A three-year study to determine the possible impacts of climate change on federal flood insurance will warn of huge increases to the amount of land that could be inundated by rising sea levels, heavier downpours and stormier coastlines. The size of the nation's flood plains is expected to grow by 40 or 45 percent over the next 90 years, says the study, which is scheduled to be released later this summer.

That prediction envisions waves of seawater pushing deeper inland during strengthening storms as oceans rise between 0.75 and 1.9 meters by the year 2100. In river valleys and other low-lying flow ways, more rainwater could routinely reach onto areas where current flooding is rare.

Stretching the flood plains could encircle millions of new homes and businesses and expand the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) beyond its current volume of 5.6 million policies that protect property valued at $1.2 trillion from water damage. The study estimates that the program's policies could double in number by century's end.

Those results pushed Mark Crowell, a geologist with the Federal Emergency Management Agency who is overseeing the study, to tell coastal professionals attending a conference here this week that the findings establish "a need for FEMA to incorporate the effects of climate change more directly into various aspects of the NFIP."

That would mark a major policy change for the program, which has not explicitly accounted for rising temperatures and its accompanying byproducts, despite the impacts that climate change could have on flooding. Environmental advocates have sought for several years to expand FEMA's focus on historical flood levels to include higher water crests predicted for the future. Crowell said the study will not recommend including climate policies in the program....

Rulo Nebraska and Rulo Bridges in the 2011 Missouri River floods on June 15, 2011, US Army Corps of Engineers photo

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