R.I. Sen. Reed’s Bill Requiring Updated Federal Flood Maps Wins Backing

February 6, 2006

A bill sponsored by Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) that would require the U.S. government to update the maps it uses to predict flood risks faced by coastal residents has gained support on Capitol Hill from two key groups.

Reed’s legislation, aimed in part at providing coastal residents with accurate maps as they consider buying flood insurance, was endorsed by the Association of State Floodplain Managers and the National Wildlife Federation.

“ASFPM understands the need to better understand the additional areas subject to flood risk,” Pam Pogue of the Association of State Floodplain Managers said at a Senate Banking Committee hearing Thursday. “ASFPM strongly recommends that the nation embark as soon as possible on a program to identify these risks.”

Reed’s bill, filed last fall, would provide $400 million annually over the next six years for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to update its maps. He said the new maps would help state, local and national governments better prepare for and respond to natural hazards such as hurricanes and floods.

“The federal government needs to provide Americans with the most accurate data that reflects coastal flooding hazards from hurricanes and other natural events,” Reed, said at the hearing. “Currently, federal coastal flood maps do not reflect the real flood hazard risks.”

The issue is particularly important in Rhode Island, where large numbers of residents live near the coast.

Reed said more than 70 percent of FEMA maps are over a decade old.

“In the case of Rhode Island, the maps are over 20 years old,” said Reed. “New development has altered watersheds and floodplains.”

In Rhode Island, the value of insured coastal property rose from $33 billion to $83 billion between 1980 and 1993, Reed noted. He said the new development and its impact on floodplains is not included in FEMA coastal flood maps.

The senator said having accurate maps is critical, particularly as coastal regions seek to better prepare themselves for natural disasters such as hurricanes.

“It is important that we learn lessons from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita,” said Reed. “We must evaluate how we plan, mitigate and respond to natural hazards.”

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