Coalition Report

By Alicia Lloyd, Clean Water Policy Coordinator,
Missouri Coalition for the Environment

New Federal Flood Standards Good Start to Stopping Irresponsible and Dangerous Development

The St. Louis area has a long, soggy history with floods. Whether it’s flash flooding or the devastating damage wrought by the major floods of 1993, 2008, 2011, and most recently, 2015 on the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, floods are a fact of life.

Development – public or private – in the floodplain is never wise. Flooding is a natural river process that provides important ecological functions. As St. Louis has seen time and time again, constructing floodwalls and levees severing rivers from their floodplains to “protect” human development is a recipe for disaster. What’s worse is that taxpayers fund these river “management” practices and often subsidize the construction behind them. After flooding inevitably occurs, the public frequently also pays for the resulting damages.

Fortunately, the Obama Administration recently updated the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard (FFRMS) requiring that federal agencies use a safer, more conservative estimate of flood risk when making decisions about what and where to build.

Rhetoric of government overreach is entirely inaccurate. The FFRMS only applies to federally-funded construction in the floodplain and does not interfere with landowners’ rights to manage flood risk – it does not affect insurance rates under the National Flood Insurance Program. Instead, it tells the federal government that they must take greater precautions when using taxpayer dollars to build and fund projects in a floodplain. These standards will result in taxpayer-funded infrastructure that is less vulnerable and more resilient.

The river will flood again. That’s what rivers do. While a step in the right direction, the updates to the FFRMS are only a start to addressing irresponsible and ecologically-detrimental development as it only applies to federally funded projects.

The updated standards will not affect private development projects such as those proposed in Maryland Heights and the Lighthouse St. Louis project in North City that will further alter our rivers’ natural integrity and certainly require public assistance when they flood.

Developing in places we know will flood is fiscally and environmentally irresponsible, harms local and state economies, and threatens lives. The updated standards recognize that public health, building safety, and responsible use of our taxpayer dollars are government responsibilities. The Federal Flood Risk Management Standard protects the American public, including the citizens of St. Louis.

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