The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is a federally subsidized program that provides federal flood insurance to property owners in places where private insurance companies will not offer policies. Flood insurance is typically required to secure a construction loan in flood risk areas.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administers NFIP. By controlling flood insurance, NFIP is intended to guide construction away from flood prone areas and limit development on high-risk lands. Ultimately, NFIP is supposed to minimize insurance claims and protect citizens from harm.
Instead of guiding development away from floodplains, NFIP has actually had the opposite effect—the federal insurance has actually subsidized development in risky areas.
Floodplain development increases the risk of devastating floods, increases taxpayer costs, and degrades habitat and water quality. Unfortunately, natural floodplains are often considered prime building locations and rarely receive the protection they deserve.
Natural floodplains provide a wide land surface where floodwaters can collect and begin to soak into the ground. This "buffer" of land and vegetation along a river or coastline also provides the following important services to people and wildlife:
As climate change accelerates, scientists project that floods will become more frequent and severe, further harming species and habitats and putting humans and property at risk.
In 2008, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) found that the administration of the NFIP is contributing to the extinction of salmon and orca in Puget Sound. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) requires that the actions of federal agencies not jeopardize threatened and endangered species or destroy the habitat upon which these species depend for survival and recovery.
NMFS's findings mean that FEMA must make specific changes to the NFIP to prevent further development in floodplains. These common-sense changes include:
Unfortunately, in April 2009 FEMA issued a policy statement reneging on their agreement to strengthen protections for floodplains in Puget Sound. In a letter to NMFS, FEMA made clear that they would no longer require or enforce new guidelines as required under the Endangered Species Act.
The National Wildlife Federation is working to ensure that FEMA lives up to their responsibilities to protect the public from devastating floods and to protect floodplain habitat, so that salmon and orca will have a chance to thrive.
Specifically, our goals are to:
Through this work, we hope that Puget Sound can become a model for smart stormwater management that can be implemented throughout the country. Our work will extend to locations where additional endangered species may be harmed by the National Flood Insurance Program.
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