American Rivers releases plan in the wake of Hurricane Ike

Bold new strategy needed to protect communities from floods

September 17th, 2008

Stephanie Lindloff, American Rivers, 518-482-2631
Joyce Wu, American Rivers, 202-347-7550
Amy Kober, American Rivers, 206-213-0330 x23 

Washington, DC –  With parts of Texas and the Midwest under water from the latest storms, today American Rivers, the nation’s leading river conservation organization, released a plan,  “A 21st Century Approach to Flood Protection,” to overhaul the nation’s flood response and to help prevent future disasters. 

“Our hearts go out to the families and communities of Texas and the Midwest who have lost loved ones and have seen their homes and businesses damaged or destroyed by floodwaters,” said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers. “We must do more to help these victims and prevent tomorrow’s.”

“There is overwhelming scientific consensus that global warming means more severe and more frequent storms, including more record-breaking floods,” Wodder said.  “Clearly business as usual won’t work for the communities struggling to recover from this year’s floods, and the communities at risk in the coming years.”

A 21st CENTURY APPROACH TO FLOOD PROTECTION

Background

As the damages from this year’s floods continue to add up, decision-makers at every level of government must re-examine our water and floodplain management policies. We have spent billions on flood control and billions more on relief, recovery, and rebuilding efforts, yet every year flood disasters take a heavy human and economic toll.  Something isn’t working. 

Fortunately, the means to help ensure that communities are safer from future floods are well within our grasp.  Catastrophic floods are evidence that we are not working well with nature.  Wetlands and floodplains reduce flooding and storm surge by trapping and holding water and breaking wave energy.  Rebuilding devastated areas with healthy wetlands and floodplains in mind will help prepare our communities for a wetter and stormier future. 

 Key flood protection solutions:

Keep People and Critical Infrastructure out of Harm’s Way.  As communities grow, it is essential to ensure that homes and critical facilities such as utilities and wastewater treatment plants are located out of floodplains.  Congress should re-authorize the Pre-Disaster Mitigation program and double federal funding for voluntary relocation programs.  FEMA should create additional incentives through the Community Rating System program for communities to exceed the federal minimum floodplain management standards. 

Recognize the Risk of Global Warming. Congress must pass, and the President must sign, a National Flood Insurance Modernization Act that recognizes the impact of global warming on flooding.

Stop Further Wetland and Stream Destruction.  New permits to fill wetlands should be halted unless states and federal agencies can demonstrate that the projects won’t increase flood risk.  Congress should restore historic protections to these resources by passing the Clean Water Restoration Act of 2007.

Do No Harm. Congress should prohibit the construction of new navigation structures and new levees until the Army Corps of Engineers ensures that those structures will not increase flooding downstream.  Several studies have shown that these structures are among the leading causes of increased flooding.

Scrutinize Our Levee System.  Communities that have developed behind levees have the right to know the condition of these structures.  In November 2007, Congress passed the National Levee Safety Program Act, but failed to provide adequate funds.  The law must be fully funded at $120 million over six years. 

Repair and Improve Levees and Dams Judiciously. Repairing and maintaining levees and dams are costly and long-term commitments—obligations that many communities are challenged to meet.  FEMA should prioritize emergency funding for cost-effective and sustainable alternatives to levee and dam repair.

Revive the Water Resources Council. Hurricane Ike demonstrates the broad reach that extreme weather events can have and the need for regional and national water management planning.  The Water Resources Council should be reconvened to develop coordinated national water policies.

Manage Stormwater to Reduce Flooding. While rain is an essential resource that provides clean, fresh water essential for people and wildlife, it also can lead to flooding problems when we pave over watersheds.  Congress should expand existing programs that support natural stormwater management through clean water funding, and establish new policies to mitigate the stormwater impacts of federally supported highways.

“This year’s Midwest floods and the series of devastating hurricanes have shown once again that it is time for the country to rethink how we work with nature and how we protect our communities,” said Wodder. “By making smarter decisions about how we manage our rivers and floodplains, we can reduce flood damages and protect the safety and vitality of our communities.”    


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About American Rivers

About American Rivers

American Rivers protects wild rivers, restores damaged rivers, and conserves clean water for people and nature. Since 1973, American Rivers has protected and restored more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects, and an annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® campaign. Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 200,000 members, supporters, and volunteers.

Rivers connect us to each other, nature, and future generations. Find your connections at AmericanRivers.org, Facebook.com/AmericanRivers, and Twitter.com/AmericanRivers.