As flood risk increases, FEMA pushes updates on southwest Iowa levees


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Levees hold back floodwaters from developed areas (via Creative Commons). 

Julia Poska | December 6, 2019

FEMA will “de-accredit” 94.5 miles of levees in southwest Iowa and northwest Missouri unless owners make updates that ensure protection within new 100-year flood boundaries, the Des Moines Register reported Wednesday.

The levees protect parts of Pottawattamie, Mills and Fremont counties, which experienced historic flooding this spring.

Affected communities have historically been located in FEMA’s 500-year floodplain, giving them a 0.2% chance of flooding in a given year (NOT flooding once in 500 years, as is a common misconception). Flood recurrence is calculated from historic averages, and increasing flood frequency due to climate change now puts those areas within the 100-year flood plain, making flood risk 5 times higher.

The floodplain updates take effect in the spring but levee owners have a few years to make updates before official losing accreditation. The Register reports, “It’s estimated that work to meet FEMA’s standards could cost upwards of $1 million per mile of levee,” a steep price for an area still recovering from the last round of floods.

The Register reported that nearly 1,500 home and business owners would need to purchase flood insurance in the spring the levees don’t receive updates. In such a high-risk area, insurance would become mandatory, and rates in some areas could increase 2600%, according to the Register. 

 

Federal flooding buyouts more available in wealthier areas


Flooded Home
Photo by Chris Sirrine, flickr

Tyler Chalfant | October 15th, 2019

A federal program that buys and demolishes homes in flood-prone areas has been disproportionately implemented in counties with higher incomes and higher populations, a recent study found. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has bought more than 43,000 homes since 1989 in an effort to make communities less vulnerable to flooding. Though this study raises concerns that the program isn’t helping the areas most at risk. 

The number of Americans with flood insurance has been declining in recent years, while flood-prone areas in coastal states have the highest rates of construction, as the frequency of flooding events increases. The buyout program allows homeowners to relocate further inland, rather than continuously rebuilding after a storm, in a process known as managed retreat. 

Homeowners can’t apply for the buyouts themselves, and FEMA doesn’t determine who can participate. That decision is left to local officials. One explanation for the wealth disparity offered by the study’s authors was that wealthier and more populous jurisdictions may be more likely to have the staff and expertise required to successfully apply for federal funds. Within the counties that receive more funding, poorer neighborhoods are more likely to be demolished.

Another paper, published last month by the Natural Resources Defense Council, also highlighted inefficiencies in the FEMA buyout program. The NRDC found that wait times averaging five years for FEMA to complete a project contribute to inequity in the program, as many give up waiting and rebuild instead. 

CR water treatment facility announces new flood protection system


The Cedar River during the flood of 2008. Photo by gmzflickr; Flickr
The Cedar River during the flood of 2008. Photo by gmzflickr; Flickr

The Water Pollution Control Facility of Cedar Rapids announced plans to build a $21 million flood protection system including berms, a flood wall, and a pump station. Continue reading

FEMA sides with University of Iowa in flood funding dispute


The Hancher Building during the 2008 flood. Photo courtesy UI News Service.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has sided with the University of Iowa in a federal dispute regarding flood replacement funding.

FEMA originally committed to rebuild Hancher Auditorium, the School of Music, and Art Building East at new locations. However, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General issued a report in June suggesting FEMA should not provide the the $83 million in funding.

If the Office of the Inspector General accepts FEMA’s response, funding for the UI projects will continue as planned. However, the response is denied, the final decision will be made by Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano.

For more information, read the full article at The Gazette.

FEMA approves Lake Delhi funding


Photo by Learfield News, Flickr.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency approved funding Thursday to restore Lake Dehli in northeast Iowa, which drained in 2010 when floodwaters breached its dam.

Two requests for funding were submitted by the Lake Delhi Recreation Facility and the Water Quality District in Delaware Country, but both were rejected and the lake’s restoration remained uncertain, locked in a series of appeals until today.

“We’re very happy about the final outcome of this,” said Steve Leonard, president of the lake district. “We don’t know truly yet what it means, to what extent.”

For more information, read the full article at the Des Moines Register.

FEMA denies funding for UI Museum of Art replacement


The University of Iowa Museum of Art during the 2008 floods. Photo by bigheadedrobot, Flickr.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency denied the University of Iowa’s second request for funds to replace the UI Museum of Art, which was damaged by the 2008 floods.

FEMA claims that the building was not damaged enough to warrant a full replacement, but UI officials argued that because no insurance company will cover the school’s art collection at the existing location, a new facility is necessary.

“We are very disappointed that the state and university’s appeal for the replacement for UI art museum has been denied by FEMA,” said UI spokesman Tom Moore in an email. “University officials are reviewing our next steps in coordination with the state.”

For more information, read the full article at the Press-Citizen.

FEMA awards $6.7 million to University of Iowa


The Hancher Voxman Clapp Building during the 2008 flood. Photo courtesy UI News Service.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded  more than $6.7 million to the University of Iowa to demolish buildings that were heavily damaged during the 2008 floods.

The award will assist in the demolition of the Hancher Voxman Clapp complex and Art Building East, a project that is estimated to cost about $7.5 million and is scheduled to begin this fall.

For more information, read the full article at the Press-Citizen.