New Report Calls for Federal Action to Improve Flood Protection, Other Policies in Face of Climate Change

Report makes policy recommendations that anticipate climate change, make communities safer and save money

May 26th, 2011

Will Hewes, American Rivers, (202) 347-7550
Stacey Mink, The Hatcher Group , (410) 962-5707

Washington, D.C. – With floodwaters still threatening Mississippi River communities, American Rivers today released a report detailing the policy changes needed to protect communities from floods and other effects of climate change. The report recommends common sense changes to 10 areas of federal policy to better prepare communities for the effects of climate change and save lives and property.

The report, “Weathering Change: Policy Reforms that Save Money and Make Communities Safer,” recommends changes to wasteful and dangerous federal policies and practices that make people and wildlife more vulnerable to floods, droughts and other effects of climate change. Policy recommendations focus on a range of areas, including flood insurance, water infrastructure funding, highway construction and water use in agriculture.

The recommended changes will improve the reliability of water supplies, save money, benefit the environment and allow communities more flexibility to respond to climate change in the future.

“When it comes to water management, federal policies continue to ignore both the mistakes of the past and the changes that are coming in the future. With shrinking budgets and growing water challenges, we can’t afford to waste money on infrastructure that won’t work,” says Andrew Fahlund, American Rivers’ Senior Vice President for Conservation.

“No matter what you think about the causes of climate change, spending less money to solve more problems and prepare for the extreme weather we’re seeing all around us makes sense. The reforms we are proposing are no-regrets strategies that will save lives and money.” 

The recommendations in “Weathering Change” provide a new approach to water management and include urgently needed changes in the National Flood Insurance Program as well as farm, energy, water, forest, transportation and wildlife management policy.

Key recommendations include:

  • Change flood insurance rates and maps to discourage construction and reconstruction in vulnerable areas
  • Reward farmers for being responsible stewards of land and water resources and encourage better flood management practices on agricultural lands
  • Develop water management plans for Bureau of Reclamation projects in order to create greater flexibility and improve the health of rivers
  • Reform federal water infrastructure projects to minimize damages to rivers, wetlands and floodplains and prioritize more cost-effective, flexible projects.

The full report is available here: www.AmericanRivers.org/WeatheringChange.

By rethinking how Federal Emergency Management Agency maps flood risk and prices insurance under the National Flood Insurance Program, we can reduce the perverse incentives that currently encourage people to live in flood-prone areas. Likewise, requiring infrastructure built or funded by the federal government to incorporate climate projections will help ensure that these systems can continue to deliver clean water and manage floods into the future.

“We know how to spend our money more responsibly by planning for the future and building in flexibility that will help us deal with changing climate conditions,” said Fahlund. “We can protect and restore the wetlands, forests and rivers that slow floods and provide clean water. We can use water more efficiently at home, in factories and on farms. And we can install green roofs, rain gardens and green streets in our cities to decrease polluted runoff, improve air quality and lower temperatures.”

Natural disasters like the Mississippi River flooding are hitting with increasing frequency due to poor planning and climate change. As we have filled floodplains with homes and businesses and attempted to tame waterways with dams and levees, disasters and damages have grown. The US Army Corps of Engineers has spent over $120 billion on flood control structures, yet flood damages continue to rise. At the same time, many communities are facing water shortages due to wasteful water use and the loss of the forests and wetlands that recharge aquifers and rivers. Climate change exacerbates these problems by amplifying the effects of floods and droughts and altering the flow of waterways.

Communities across the country are already embracing cost-effective, 21st century solutions to save money and address the floods, droughts and stormwater problems they face. Philadelphia, Pa., for example, is saving billions of dollars by using green roofs, trees and other green infrastructure solutions to clean up their waterways. At the same time, city leaders are creating a more livable community, working to reduce air pollution and heat waves while increasing their ability to respond to changing conditions. These cities are demonstrating that to survive and thrive in an era of more volatile and extreme weather, we must invest in the solutions that do the most good for the least amount of money.


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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.