The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 (NDAA FY 2019) builds to the future and reflects the reality of climate change, therefore providing a useful roadmap for Congress as they consider different infrastructure proposals.
The Armed Services Committee deserves recognition for their leadership in ensuring that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and that new military construction is built to be flood-ready and resilient to future environmental conditions including climate change.
- In January 2018 the Department of Defense released the Climate-Related Risk to DoD Infrastructure Initial Vulnerability Assessment Survey (SLVAS) Report;
- In 2017, the Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFC) Headquarters released a climate adaptation planning handbook and tools (Appendix F and Appendix G) to help military installation planners implement viable strategies to address climate change impacts.
- In 2016 the Department of Defense led a multi-agency team of researchers to develop an online database and tool to help more than 1,700 military installations worldwide plan for different sea level rise scenarios and timeframes based on each planners’ risk tolerance.
The NDAA for Fiscal Year 2019 provides support for the Department of Defense to continue these types of climate-ready activities while also representing a good step in the right direction by Congress on climate preparedness.Climate and energy resiliency
The NDAA for Fiscal Year 2018 required the Pentagon to do a report on how military installations and overseas staff may be vulnerable to climate change over the next 20 years. The language in that bill (see Section 335: Report on effects of climate change on Department of Defense) recognized that climate change is a direct threat to the national security of the U.S. and “is impacting stability in areas of the world both where the United States Armed Forces are operating today, and where strategic implications for future conflict exist.”
The climate and energy resilience language in the NDAA FY 2019 is a smart next step following the NDAA FY 2018 that required vulnerability assessments of military installations. The NDAA FY 2019 (see Section 2805) requires the Defense Department to direct the different branches to implement multiple climate and energy resiliency measures and standards. Section 2865 also includes important preparedness language that authorizes the Secretary of Defense to use funds to repair and mitigate the risk to highways if they have been impacted by recurrent flood events and fluctuations in sea levels.
The bill defines ‘energy and climate resiliency’ as the:
“anticipation, preparation for, and adaptation to utility disruptions and changing environmental conditions and the ability to withstand, respond to, and recover rapidly from utility disruptions while ensuring the sustainment of mission-critical operations.’’Climate resiliency: Ensuring new construction is flood-ready
The NDAA FY 2019 (Section 2805) requires the Defense Department to direct the different military branches to implement flood standards to help avoid building in the floodplain if possible and if that isn’t possible, to ensure that new projects are more resilient to future floods.
The language in section 2805 requires smart, flood-ready resilient measures including:
- disclosure of whether a proposed project will be sited within or partially within a 100-year floodplain;
- a specific risk mitigation plan if the project is sited within or partially within a 100-year floodplain;
The bill also requires the Secretary of the Department of Defense to submit a report to the Congressional Defense Committee on proposed projects that are to be sited partially or within the 100-year floodplain. Included in this report must be:
- An assessment of flood vulnerability for the proposed project;
- Information on alternative construction sites considered and an explanation as to why those sites do not satisfy mission requirements; and
- A description of planned flood mitigation measures.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it also sets minimum base flood elevation requirements for new construction in the 100-year floodplain. Base flood elevation is the height flood water is expected to rise during a base flood. For non-mission-critical buildings and facilities, the structure must be built 2 feet above the base flood elevation (BFE) and for mission-critical buildings, 3-feet above BFE.
At least 600 communities ranging from big cities, mid-size like Hampton Roads, VA as well as small towns are already implementing these commonsense flood-ready standards. These base flood elevation standards ensure that structures are built from 1 to 3 feet (“freeboard”) above the “100-year flood” level.
Section 2865 of the NDAA FY19 is a critical piece to advancing preparedness on military installations. Section 2865 gives the Secretary of Defense the flexibility to utilize funds to repair and mitigate the risk to highways if the access to the military installation has been impacted by past recurrent flood events and fluctuations in sea levels.Why make new construction flood-ready? Connecting the dots…
#1 Climate Change: Climate change is driving rising seas & more extreme precipitation
This commonsense standard will help to protect defense facilities but will also save taxpayers money by ensuring the newly built structures can withstand rising seas and riverine flooding, both of which are becoming more frequent and costly.
Rising Seas: The military is at the frontlines of sea level rise given its large coastal presence, its interconnectedness with the surrounding communities and its important role in maintaining our national security. With higher water, high tides will reach further inland, tidal flooding will become more frequent and extensive, and storms will have more water to drive ashore.
In Hampton Roads, VA for example, installations will be challenged with getting military personnel to their bases when the roads are inundated or to service ships at Naval Station Norfolk, the largest in the world. If the electricity at the piers must be turned off due to extra high tides, this will impact deployment and operations.
Extreme Precipitation: UCS’s fact sheet “Climate Change, Extreme Precipitation and Flooding: The Latest Science” summarizes how global warming is shifting rainfall patterns, making heavy rain more frequent in many regions. This extreme rainfall, along with human alteration of the
land and development in floodplains is placing more and more places at risk of destructive and costly floods. We know that climate change is worsening extreme weather events, making them more extreme and frequent as we’re seeing with extreme rainfall events.
#2: Dollars & Sense: Investing now, means savings down the road
Dollars: As downpours become more frequent and intense and as seas are rising, we’re seeing a toll on our nation’s coffers. Last January just after NOAA found that 2017 was the costliest year on record for weather and climate disasters.
Underwater, UCS’s recent analysis of properties at risk of chronic inundation due to sea level rise indicates that within a lifetime of a mortgage 300,000 homes worth $17.5 billion while 14,000 commercial properties worth $18.5 billion are at risk of this type of tidal flooding. By the end of the century, these numbers grow to a collective 2.5 million homes and businesses worth a $1 trillion. These numbers do not capture the value of coastal military installations nor other infrastructure such as roads, bridges, urban drainage or water or energy utilities, and therefore provide a glimpse of the value of what’s at stake. While inland flooding and storms will only exacerbate this risk and the costs of future impacts.
Sense: While cost assessment of natural disasters for just the last year alone is daunting, we can be smarter about how we spend federal taxpayer dollars while also increasing the nation’s resilience. An assessment of federal investments to reduce the risk of multiple natural hazards made just this case. The National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) issued Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves: 2017 Interim Report which found that every $1 invested in disaster mitigation saves taxpayers $6. The findings show even better numbers for riverine flooding. Investing in preventive measures like the Department of Defense’s flood standard, there’s a $7 benefit for every dollar invested. NIBS also found that the Gulf Coast and other regions in the
United States benefit even more from these standards that ensure building above the legally mandated height.Energy resiliency
The Armed Services Committee also deserves praise for addressing energy resiliency in the NDAA FY 19. The law incentivizes emissions reductions of new buildings and facilities by requiring that the Secretary of Defense provide an energy study or life cycle analysis for each requested military construction. Life cycle analysis can help inform better decisions by providing data on the projected energy needs, the costs and related environmental impacts over the life span of that project.
Finally, the law requires the Secretary of Defense to incorporate data from authorized sources on the projections of changing environmental conditions during the design life of existing or planned new facilities or infrastructure in the overarching facilities criteria and any other subsequent regulations.
The examples of the type of conditions and of “reliable and authorized” sources include:
- The Census Bureau for population projections;
- The National Academies of Sciences for land use change projections and climate projections;
- The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) for land use change projections; and
- The U.S. Global Change Research Office (USGCR) and National Climate Assessment (NCA) for climate projections.
The NDAA FY 2019 moves the needle on flood and climate readiness in many ways. It reflects the reality of climate change and the real challenges we face as a nation, particularly when it comes to the impacts of sea level rise and flooding. It also recognizes the importance of informing policies and plans based on the most recent science. Finally, it provides a solid example of the policies around planning and mitigating these risks including the need to: 1) disclose flood risk; 2) avoid placing new development in risky areas, particularly floodplains; and 3) implement mitigation measures to reduce flood risk.
The NDAA FY 2019 provides a valuable and badly needed example of bicameral, bipartisan leadership on flood and climate readiness and on using federal taxpayer dollars wisely. Hopefully, Congress will continue to move the needle on flood and climate readiness to ensure our communities and military are more resilient to extreme weather events and climate change.
Photo: Ian Swoveland North Carolina National Guard FEMA