U.S. flood-risk maps outdated

Some communities and insurance companies are making decisions based on maps created in the 1970s. Budget cuts have slowed the needed updates.

By Teresa at MSN Real Estate May 29, 2013 1:47PM

Young girls looking at flooded home (Tetra Images/Getty Images)A key factor in determining whether you need flood insurance, and what you’ll pay, is a map created by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. If FEMA determines you are in a flood-hazard zone, your lender will demand you buy flood insurance, and the map helps determine how much you’ll pay.

 

But in every disastrous flood, people are surprised to see water in areas they didn’t think were at risk. According to Pro Publica, a nonprofit investigative journalism website, that’s partly because U.S. flood maps are not up-to-date.

 

Yet Congress has cut the budget for flood maps from $221 million in 2010 to $100 million this year. President Barack Obama’s proposed budget calls for a further cut next year, to $84 million.

 

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In some communities, the flood maps date back decades.

 

"It is disconcerting to have counties and areas where people still have maps from the 1970s," Suzanne Jiwani, a floodplain mapping engineer with Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources, told Pro Publica.

The Association of State Floodplain Managers estimates that FEMA would need $4.5 billion to $7.5 billion to create accurate flood maps for the nation. Keeping those maps updated would cost $116 million to $275 million a year, the group says.

But the alternative is even more expensive. The group notes that Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and superstorm Sandy in 2012 cost the federal government $200 billion. And that doesn’t include the costs to homeowners, business owners and local and state governments.

Not everyone is happy to see new flood maps, but the experience of New Jersey after Sandy is instructive. Preliminary new flood maps released since the storm show that many buildings should be built at a higher elevation to minimize flood risk.

 

"A lot of the maps are so old, they have become unreliable," J. Robert Hunter, the former director of the federal flood insurance program and now the director of insurance at the Consumer Federation of America, told The New York Times. "It’s not doing you a favor to give a cheap rate, and a year later, your house is gone. Consumers aren’t helped by misleading maps."

 
10Comments
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The USGS is soon going to have LIDAR satellite mapping capability. This tool can create and database these supposedly expensive maps so they are available and searchable online. If the county tax assessment is on line, where is the hold up in home owner insurance access of a simply LIDAR elevation study for new construction. Reconstruction in a flood plain should not be permitted.
Jun 15, 2013 5:38PM
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My Dad preached "Live on top of a high hill". We did, sadly others flooded, we did not. We built on a high hill in 1972, others have flooded, we have not. We never even looked at a flood plain map back then. We never thought about floods because we lived on a high hill. What is so sad is the building departments of these cities and towns allow permits to build when they should not. They have the flood plain maps and certainly know the possibilities of flooding.
Jun 15, 2013 12:48PM
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all you bone heads keep thinking about buying flood insurance guess you are clueless it is run buy the fed's and we know they  don't have clue how to manage it I am one who knows have had it for 30 years $3,000 a year never put in a claim SANDY did me in got $30,000 as a pay out have to spend  $115,000 of my own $$$$ on top of that to rebuild and NO it is not my second home it WAS my only one and now I will walk away and leave it so OBAMA and the BANK can fight over it I will now rent and sleep good at night and have a boat load of cash thank you the GOOD OLD USA.
Jun 15, 2013 12:21PM
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Whether your in the flood risk map or not, why can't people just buy flood insurance?  We are not in the "risk area" but have seen water almost up to our door...and can't buy flood insurance because the maps are not updated...
Jun 15, 2013 11:18AM
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JOEY721---- YEAH YOUD KNOW,   WHO THE HELL ARE YOU, WE CAN SEE YOU DONT LIKE OBAMA BUT THAT OTHER GOO YOU ARE SPEWWING AINT GONA STIC, NOW CRAWL BACK INTO THAT SLIMMY HOLE OF YOURS AND WE WILL SEE YOU IN 17YRS
Jun 15, 2013 11:16AM
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Outdated? How about using the tax dollars that would normally pay for all of these people's expenses and create an ad campaign (we're already paying for "got milk" and all the rest) to tell them that THEY NEED TO BUY THEIR OWN INSURANCE and not rely on the government to pay their losses.
Jun 15, 2013 11:10AM
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Interesting, but not new. We can remember similar issues being raised in the 60's, 70's, 80's, and 90's. Several factors argue for not doing anything. Transference of the settlement costs from the taxpayers to private insurance would damage profits for the insurance industry, replacement construction can be taxed locally at a higher value and insurance rates/costs might preclude more people from acquiring flood insurance.
Jun 15, 2013 4:06AM
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My parent's home was above the supposed 500 year flood plane, and they had 8' of water in front of their house.  The personal costs were high.  Government is capable of providing this information, and no one else can.  It is a responsibility of government to protect the well being of its citizens, and these flood maps certainly fit that.  Its certainly time to throw the stalwart antitax, antiperformance blowhards out of Congress, and get back to working in the interest of the American people.  I'm tired of us paying for useless government, as in shut everything down to save corporations.  There is work to do, and they need to get off their arces and get to it.
Jun 15, 2013 12:26AM
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$4.5 billion to $7.5 billion to update to accurate maps? $275 million annually to keep them current?

Money well spent? I think not! Flood plan maps are only statistical predictors and in this digital age update expenses should be far less costly.

 

Besides, Obamas Africa family vacation could pay for a lot of this.

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