Minnesota Spring Flooding Damage Estimate: $14M

April 6, 2010

  • April 8, 2010 at 3:19 am
    Doug Shackelford says:
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    Here is the logic behind, and the case for, a greater emphasis on emergency flood protection in Minnesota and for the country. The numbers are difficult to pin down definitively, but the order of magnitude and rate of increase in flood damage losses are very real.

    The continuing and escalating cost of flood damage in the US is unsustainable.

    Reported Flood damage in the US averages over $6 billion annually over the last 100 years, according to NOAA. In some years since 2000, estimates put losses above $100 billion.

    Flood insurance programs now cover around 20% of those losses. Even at these levels of compensation, the NFIP is under funded based on the premiums paid by policy holders. The US taxpayer has been obliged to cover the funding gap. Without this taxpayer funded insurance, the losses cannot be reimbursed. The average loss from flooding is steadily increasing, in real dollars. Whether it is due to greenhouse gases, global climate change, or sunspots is not relevant to this discussion. There are practical limits to how much property can be abandoned to undeveloped flood plains, as is recommended by FEMA and the USACE. The loss of culture, commerce and history from abandoning our river front and coastal communities has an even higher price to pay. The following is the summary case for providing “emergency” flood protection using engineered, technologically superior methodologies.

    50% to 75% of flood damage is preventable with a commitment of planning, resources and logistics to deliver “emergency” flood protection. It is estimated that a dollar, spent on mitigation, can save between $7 and $15 in damage losses. Spend $1 billion on emergency flood damage mitigation now, plus $100 million or so annually for logistics, training, and storage, save $15 billion every year for the next 10. That’s $2 billion to save $150 billion. The technology and engineering are completed. The systems have been tested and proven effective. All that remains is the political will to implement.

    More than 60% of the damage, from severe weather of all kinds, is caused by flooding. Estimates are that 75% of the damage from flooding comes from an inundation of floodwater that is less than 3′ deep.

    $1 spent on mitigation, saves between $7 – $15 in damage losses.

    FEMA spends over $28 million a day on clean-up and recovery and less than $2 million per day on mitigation.

    Flood events have increased by a factor of 12 since the 1950’s.

    Major flood control projects, such as those undertaken by the USACE, take over a decade to complete. Changes in weather patterns and rising sea levels project greater increases in flood events and flood damage for the next 50 to 100 years. For flood control projects, surveys, analysis, design, engineering and construction, require funding at each phase and take more time than is acceptable with the current escalating level of threat.

    Flood insurance programs, private or nationally funded, operate at a loss and continue to collect significantly less than the payouts that are required. FEMA has ordered new flood plain maps designed to include the expanding catalog of properties that are threatened by flooding. This increase is necessary to help close the insurance programs funding/payout gap. The uproar, over the increased costs, the loss of insurance protection and the lack of education on the reasoning, is gaining volume.

    There are roughly 100,000 miles of coast line in the US. There is an estimated 100,000 miles of levee, protecting over 43% of US counties. Over 50% of the US population lives in a county protected by levees. Less than 17,000 miles of these levees are certified as adequate, by the USACE. Hundreds of miles of these levees are substandard. Funding for repair, maintenance and improvement is simply not available. Add to this the thousands of miles of river, creek and lake shoreline, the deplorable condition of the country’s dams and with the changes in weather patterns, increases in flood event frequency, and the long lead time for the implementation of the current FEMA and USACE mitigation programs, you can begin to see the magnitude of the threat we’re facing.

    Since any losses, in damage and lost commerce, are ultimately bourn by the taxpayer, it is clearly in every citizen’s interest to mitigate flood damage.

    Although we know where the most likely flooding threats are, we can’t predict where or when the next flood will occur. Currently the only widely used method of emergency flood protection is the use of sandbags. Sandbags require manpower, resources and logistics that in most communities are not available, at any price. The true costs are in excess of $225 per foot for a fully built 3′ high barrier (some estimates put it closer to $300/ft). Of course the utilization of volunteer labor reduces the direct cost. Enough volunteer labor is rarely available. Even when it is, the cost to the community in lost production, commerce and the attendant health issues are never included in the final accounting.

    Once the flood threat recedes the sandbags, now contaminated with oil, gasoline, pesticides, and raw sewage, must be considered hazardous waste. Proper clean-up and disposal can exceed the cost of deployment. Many areas are already out of landfill capacity. The long term health risks, from bacteria, mold, and more is almost never considered.

    The USACE and many municipalities hand out millions of sandbags every year. In some years it is hundreds of millions. The cost of this one component of an emergency flood barrier program is illogical. One report concluded that the estimated $158 million spent on sandbags during Katrina, in New Orleans, provided no additional protection, no savings and was, therefore, a complete loss.

    Technology and methods for providing emergency flood barrier protection are now available. There are multiple products in the marketplace, but no cohesive plan to utilize them.

    There are currently more than a dozen systems designed for this purpose. In nearly every case the newer systems are, on both a cost and a performance basis, superior to sandbags. Some are sand-filled, some water inflated and some are designed to be structurally secure with braces and struts of various configurations. The USACE has tested numerous types of systems from multiple manufacturers using a testing protocol developed at the direction of Congress. The reports based on these test results, are available for review.

    Some systems can deploy 300′ of 3′ high barrier in less than 8 hours with 2 men and a pick-up truck [www.floodwalls.com} (sandbags would take 10 men 70 hours and more than 80 tons of sand). When the flood threat has passed, these systems can be redeployed, and stored for reuse in the next flood event. Responders are able to use it anywhere it’s needed, due to flexible, modular designs.

    Why the contribution is important
    The main challenge, for the implementation of systems like this, is the requirement for pre-planning and pre-positioning of the barrier system. Although equipment and materials are minimized by the technology, action must be taken ahead of the emergency to be able to affect timely response.

    The Federal Government, as a protection to the taxpayer, is the only logical choice for the vast majority of community protection projects that this type of program would cover. Some visionary contractors have begun developing specifications for specialized response kits, designed to provide both disaster mitigation, (specifically flood damage and protection) and housing for displaced residents.

    Local communities through DHS and FEMA, with additional support from the USACE, would appear to be the most logical choices for implementing and administering such a program. Given the tools and materials, local first responders can be easily trained and are well able to deploy these systems. Support of “emergency” flood protection” response, is logical and makes sense. It will save billions of dollars, $150 billion or more over the next 10 years

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