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U.S. Establishes New Federal Flood Risk Management Standard to Account for Climate Risks

February 2, 2015

On Friday (January 30, 2015), President Obama issued an executive order requiring all federally-funded construction projects to adopt more stringent siting and building standards to account for increased flooding risks linked to climate change.[1] The policy is aimed to “improve the resilience of communities and [protect] Federal assets against the impacts of flooding.”[2]

Most agencies currently rely on historical flood data rather than future projections when creating building plans.[3] However, builders must now meet a new standard, which can be achieved by satisfying one of three requirements:

(1) base plans on data and methods informed by the best available, actionable climate science

(2) build two feet above the projected 100-year flood elevation for most projects and three feet above that level for critical buildings (e.g. hospitals, evacuation centres), or

(3) build to projected elevation for 1-in-500 year floods

These more stringent standards could make large areas of low-lying land ineligible for construction by federal agencies or with federal funds.[4]

The President’s executive order was issued two days after the release of a major U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report on coastal storm and flood risk along the North Atlantic coast.[5] The study explicitly considered the “increased frequency and intensity of storm events and rising sea levels due to a changing climate” and found that “flood risk is increasing for coastal populations and supporting infrastructure” along the North Atlantic coast.[6] Notably, the report also concluded that “[p]re-disaster planning and mitigation can save communities approximately 75 percent of poststorm costs.” [7]

Written by Joanna Kyriazis

(Previously posted on www.zadllp.com)

[1] The White House, Press Release, “Executive Order – Establishing a Federal Flood Risk Management Standard and a Process for Further Soliciting and Considering Stakeholder Input” (30 January 2015), online: White House Office of the Press Secretary < https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/01/30/executive-order-establishing-federal-flood-risk-management-standard-and->.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Coral Davenport, “Federal Construction Projects Must Plan for Flood Risks From Climate Change,” New York Times (30 January 2015), online: <https://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/31/us/federal-construction-projects-must-plan-for-flood-risks-from-climate-change.html?smid=tw-share&_r=0> [New York Times];

Juliet Eliperin, “In major shift, Obama administration will plan for rising seas in all federal projects,”Washington Post (30 January 2015), online: <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/01/30/in-major-shift-obama-administration-will-plan-for-rising-seas-in-all-federal-projects/>.

[4] Supra, note 2, New York Times.

[5] North Atlantic Division, News Release, “U.S. Army Corps of Engineers releases report on coastal storm and flood risk in the North Atlantic region of the United States,” (28 January 2015), online: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers <https://www.nad.usace.army.mil/Media/NewsReleases/tabid/4870/Article/562190/us-army-corps-of-engineers-releases-report-on-coastal-storm-and-flood-risk-in-t.aspx>.

[6]U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, North Atlantic Coast Comprehensive Study: Resilient Adaptation to Increasing Risk (January 2015), online: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers < https://www.nad.usace.army.mil/Portals/40/docs/NACCS/NACCS_main_report.pdf> at iii.