Higher Ground: A Report on Voluntary Buyouts in the Nation's Floodplains

  • David R. Conrad, Ben McNitt, and Martha Stout
  • Jul 01, 1998

For much of the 20th century, the nation pursued a mostly singular course of attempting to control floods with structures—dams, levees, river channelizations, drainage works, and manipulation of coastlines—at large expense to the taxpayers, and often with the effect of luring unwise encroachment into flood-prone areas, and imbuing communities with a false sense of security that is shattered when substantial floods eventually come. The nation is now beginning to recognize the significant limitations of this approach.

In 1968, in an attempt to provide new direction that emphasizes nonstructural approaches to address flood problems, Congress initiated the National Flood Insurance Program, with the promise that in exchange for making affordable flood insurance available in floodprone communities, the communities would redirect their growth and development away from hazardous areas, and thus reduce the costs of flooding to all sectors. While this program has made significant strides, it still has far to go to reach that original vision.

In the wake of the ‘93 Midwest Flood, many communities began to develop and implement a new strategy of voluntary buyouts and relocations of homes and businesses out of harm’s way. Since then many other communities across the Nation have followed suit. These actions represent a sea-change in attitude and approach toward addressing flood problems, with significant potential to benefit people at risk, the Nation’s taxpayers, and the environment.

Higher Ground reviews the status of voluntary property buyouts and relocations as a floodplain management option to date. In addition, the report analyzes the 18-year history of repetitive flood losses from the National Flood Insurance Program to identify communities that may have significant potential to utilize new nonstructural approaches to flood hazard reduction. Finally, the report makes recommendations for program and policy changes to improve floodplain management and to increase the utilization of nonstructural approaches to reduce flood damages.

Higher Ground

A Report on Voluntary Buyouts in the Nation's Floodplains


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