Moving People out of Floodplains to Protect Them and Wildlife

Rising Water

At first the rains come as a light drizzle, tapping out a soothing melody on rooftops and windowpanes. Soon the tempo quickens to a loud drum beat of impending danger. As the rain falls harder and harder the river begins to swell, slowly creeping up its banks. Even the levees that have been constructed to shelter communities from floods are not immune to the growing threat and soon water begins to spill into the land around the river. At one point this land was left free for flooding but then people began to develop along the river. Levees were built and vegetation removed which destroyed the natural processes of the river. With out the natural protection offered from the floodplain the water begins to swirl into the basements and living rooms of the houses. Furniture, family heirlooms, floors and walls are submerged by the flood waters as the residents have to evacuate in a hurry.

This is a scene that is played out over and over again throughout the years and across watersheds. Many homes were insured through FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) which provides subsidized flood insurance for those living in floodplains. The insurance makes it possible for people to rebuild in the same location after a flood. These rebuilt homes only continue to put their owners in danger from floods and negatively impact salmon. As of 2011 Washington state has had 833 repeatedly flooded homes(those that have been flooded three times or more) and cost tax payers $71 million in insurance claims.

A Possible Way Out

When people are flooded out of their homes it takes an emotional and financial toll on the families, many of which were unaware of the extent of danger that living in these areas presents. The FEMA buy out program is a long and complex process that offers the possibility of moving people out of floodplains and restoring the floodplain, helping people and wildlife. This video shows firsthand accounts of flood victims’ experiences with flooding and using the buyout program.

Bad for People and Wildlife

Developing in floodplains puts people in danger and destroys critical habitat for endangered salmon runs in the Puget Sound region. It is for this reason that the National Wildlife Federation is involved in a lawsuit against FEMA. Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) no federal agency can take actions that harm an ESA listed species. By promoting development in floodplains FEMA is violating the ESA and threatening endangered salmon runs and the orcas which rely on salmon for their primary food source.

Moving Forward

Instead of continuing to bail people out of flooded properties FEMA should make it easier for people to move out of the floodplain and to higher, safer ground. This is of particular importance in the face of Climate Change which will cause an increase in extreme events such as flooding. Properties that they do ensure should be safe for people and wildlife.