January 30, 2015

Executive Order to Strengthen Flood Risk Standard Smart Move

Statement by Rachel Cleetus, Lead Climate Economist at UCS

WASHINGTON (January 30, 2015)—President Barack Obama today announced that he will strengthen the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard by executive order, a move the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) said will help make communities more resilient to climate change and ensure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely. Under the new standard, when federal agencies build or rebuild in flood-prone areas, they must use more protective design standards to guard against flood risks.

Agencies will have the flexibility to choose among three approaches:

  • Use the best-available climate science.
  • Build two feet above the 100-year (1 percent annual chance) flood elevation for standard projects and three feet above for critical buildings like hospitals and evacuation centers.
  • Build to the 500-year (0.2 percent annual chance) flood elevation.

Below is a statement by Rachel Cleetus, lead climate economist at UCS.

“This should be one of the least controversial executive orders the president has ever released. Why would the federal government build or repair buildings in ways that continue to put communities at risk? And why would we waste taxpayer dollars rebuilding in ways that are likely to result in repeated future flooding damages? This executive order is simply common sense. In fact, many communities across the country already recognize this and have issued building design guidelines that call for two feet of freeboard above the 100-year base flood elevation.

“This standard hasn’t been substantially changed in 37 years. Meanwhile, flood losses have increased and will continue to get worse with climate change, which is increasing flooding risks by contributing to higher seas and more severe storm surge along our coasts, and also heavier rains in some parts of the country. At the same time, more development in coastal areas is putting more people and property at risk. 

“We’re also now seeing flooding on sunny days. Flooding during high tides—something that rarely occurred in the past—is now common in some places on the East and Gulf coasts of the U.S. Tidal flooding is expected grow to the point that sections of coastal cities will flood so often they’ll become unusable in the near future, according to a study the Union of Concerned Scientists released in October. Most of the 52 coastal towns we looked at could see a tripling in annual tidal floods in 15 years and a tenfold increase in 30 years.

“It’s bad policy to rebuild in ways that perpetuate our risk of flooding and to sink taxpayer dollars into risky rebuilding efforts. Federal funds should instead be spent on making coastal communities more resilient to sea level rise and coastal flooding.”

Read UCS’s report “Encroaching Tides: How Sea Level Rise and Tidal Flooding Threaten U.S. East and Gulf Coast Communities over the Next 30 Years.”    

See UCS’s downloadable sea level rise infographic.

The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with people across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.