This is the second in a short series on the National Flood Insurance Program, some of its failings, and how it might better support preparations for our climate future.
On July 6, 2012, President Obama signed into law the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 (Biggert-Waters), putting in place long-overdue reforms.
Understandably, there is pushback from some of the people who may pay more for flood insurance, which is provided and generously subsidized through the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). What’s almost always overlooked is the necessity of making changes to the NFIP and the need to make even bigger changes, even faster if the NFIP is to keep up with the increased flooding challenges that climate change is bringing to our shorelines and floodplains. For a county by county breakdown of subsidized insurance policy holders, FEMA has created a really cool GIS map so you can see how your hometown stacks up.
Other subsidies will be phased out as FEMA updates its flood maps, some of which have not been revised in three or more decades. FEMA’s flood maps are so outdated they do not reflect the true flooding risks for many areas.
The bottom half of the picture illustrates how things will work in the future, as new flood maps are approved and as actuarial rates are assessed.
But these higher actuarial, or risk-based, insurance rates will only happen once flood maps are updated and if the property owner sells the property, allows their existing policy to lapse, or suffers severe or repetitive flood damage.


In June a FEMA analysis was released that estimated just how much more of the country will be at risk of flooding because of climate driven sea-level rise and extreme weather, as the map below shows.
On average coastal areas are expected to see a 55% increase in size of areas prone to flooding, mostly along the Eastern seaboard, the Pacific Northwest, and the Great Lakes. As a requirement of Biggert-Waters FEMA is convening a Technical Mapping Advisory Council to recommend how best to incorporate climate impacts into future flood maps. The fact is that subsidized insurance and out of date maps led to millions of people moving into flood prone areas. This debt, as well as the large amounts of natural destruction in the past years, caused FEMA to create new flood maps in New Jersey.  32,000 additional homes in the state were placed in flood zones after FEMA took action.
After these new flood maps were created, New Jersey homeowners in new flood zones had 3 options.
Because the additional yearly cost of insurance is so devastatingly expensive, many homeowners are choosing option 3: hire a company like Structural Solutions that specializes in house raising in NJ. Among the most important reforms is the phase-out of certain subsidies that flood prone properties have received for decades, properties that are increasingly at risk due to rising sea levels and the increased flooding along our rivers thanks to our rapidly warming climate.
But prior to passage of Biggert-Waters, these three properties would have been treated the same, with the owner of the property at greatest risk getting a taxpayer subsidized incentive to live in a risky, flood prone area.


The person who has property 1 foot above the water when it floods will see a savings of $1,506.
Increased flooding is projected even in areas that are expected to be more arid and dry, due to the intense and flashy nature of future storms as the climate warms.
That Council’s recommendations should be released soon and it would be a shock if FEMA is not told that climate change impacts have to be factored into any new maps. The areas that were actually flooded were far more extensive than FEMA’s flood maps led people to expect, as you can see in the map below.
The maps undoubtedly contributed to insufficient planning and a more challenging response to flood damages that were far more extensive than what city officials and residents were prepared for.



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