River News

New FEMA flood maps pose insurance
hike to Delta residents

October 30, 2013

Galen Kusic


With the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) new flood risk maps complete – Delta residents are concerned that flood insurance rate hikes will be through the roof.

The insurance hike results from two sections in the bipartisan 2012 National Flood Insurance Program reauthorization. This was aimed to decrease federally subsidized flood insurance premiums and bring policyholders closer to full-risk actuarial rates.

At the same time, it was not intended to create an insane jump in insurance premiums. In some cases where houses or structures are below the 200-year flood zone – insurance rates could increase as much as 4,000 percent.

For those in the Delta, this is bad news – as most of the Delta’s communities are in the 200-year floodplain. The spike in these rates would potentially bring down home values and furthermore degrade the comeback of the nation’s housing economy.

The new maps, with expanded flood zones and raised Base Flood Elevation (BFE) levels means that nearly everyone living along the Sacramento River or the 1,000 miles of the Sacramento-San Joaquin estuary will be affected in one way or another.

As Congress realizes how many will be negatively impacted by these new regulations, Congressman John Garamendi (D-3rd district) is a cosponsor of the H.R. 2199, the Flood Insurance Implementation Reform Act of 2013 in response to these astronomical increases. This in turn would delay the rate hike, as over 200-miles of the Sacramento River is located within Garamendi’s district.

Earlier this year in the House, a bipartisan decision to delay the implementation of increases was passed in an amendment. Both members in the House and Senate are currently working toward including this amendment in future legislation to reduce or prevent extreme rate hikes.

“The new flood insurance rates demanded by FEMA are absolutely unaffordable,” said Garamendi, who owns a house just outside Walnut Grove on the Sacramento River. “An immediate delay is urgently needed to keep residents in my district in their homes.”

As news of the insurance hikes has spread, so has the regulation of building in a 200-year floodplain. According to a local architect, it will consistently become harder to build houses or commercial buildings within the Delta because of the new flood maps. With new flood maps, comes new regulation of how structures have to be built to avoid disaster.

In talking with Walnut Grove residents, some have already seen their insurance premiums double over the last year. Others attempted to beat the deadline for flood insurance rates to keep a reasonable rate grandfathered in, but did not make the deadline.

Instead of paying more in rates, one resident has chosen to abandon flood insurance on Grand Island altogether. The island itself did not used to be incorporated into the floodplain, as it has never flooded. Yet, with the new maps and taking into account the various issues of climate change and the possibility of earthquake or atmospheric rivers – FEMA has included many areas that may not have been considered susceptible in the past.

Others are still paying the base rates they have paid for years, but many fear that if this law is not changed – they could possibly have to abandon their home because of the high risk and high cost.

State Senator Lois Wolk (D-3rd District) realizes that the insurance rates are a federal issue – but that the state must implement a plan that will protect residents and consumers from flood at all costs. She highlighted that the Central Valley has flooded severely twice in the last 25 years, and that “not getting insurance” is clearly not the answer.

“In ’89 and ’97, you gambled and you lost,” said Wolk of the flooding that took people’s homes. “You lost big-time.”

Wolk is all for residents having flood insurance to protect in many cases what is family’s most valuable asset, the home. She cited places like not only the Delta, but the Sutter Basin and Natomas as well. She noted the importance of implementing a Central Valley Flood Protection Plan, and that by implementing these mechanisms – it will create a level of protection for years to come.

“Eventually it will reduce the most exorbitant rates,” she said. “This is a long-term issue.”

Wolk’s recently introduced $5.6 billion water bond, SB 42, “The Safe Drinking
Water, Water Quality and Flood Protection Act of 2014” focuses on improving levees and provides funding for flood protection throughout the Central Valley.

Wolk feels that with these investments in place, it will make it more feasible for residents to get decent priced flood insurance – even in areas that have flooded in the past. Until then, she urges residents to maintain flood insurance to avoid the risk of natural disaster.

Wolk agrees with Garamendi that insurance rates must be kept affordable for Delta residents to continue on with their way of life.

“In addition to pushing for an immediate delay, I will continue to work with Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle and Northern California residents to develop a long term solution that meets the needs of my constituents,” said Garamendi via press release.

On Tuesday, the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, Garamendi along with a bi-partisan coalition of 59 members of the House of Representatives, introduced legislation to fix the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

The legislation, The Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, would postpone the program for four years and force FEMA to do an affordability study and propose an alternative that addresses affordability issues.

The Act also allows FEMA to utilize National Flood Insurance Funds to reimburse policyholders who successfully appeal a map determination, eliminates the 50 percent cap on state and local contributions to levee construction and reconstruction, while establishing a Flood Insurance Rate Map Advocate within FEMA to answer current and prospective policyholder questions about the flood mapping process.

“Unless changes are made to the flood insurance program, a lot of my constituents will soon be hit hard in their pocketbook,” said Garamendi. “This effect was not intended by the original reform, but it requires an immediate fix. The Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act provides some breathing room to prevent some of the worst unintended consequences. This bipartisan legislation is needed and I urge its swift adoption.”

As the Bay Delta Conservation Plan continues to develop and the Delta Plan is nearing implementation – it remains critical for residents to remain informed on these issues and act when necessary.  In some cases, residents are more concerned about paying for flood insurance than risking to lose their home.

“The astronomic increases in flood insurance rates set by the Federal Emergency Agency present unrealistic and unaffordable mandates that may cause financial stress to home and business owners in the Delta region,” said 11th District Assemblymember Jim Frazier. “I will continue to be a strong advocate for my district, and I encourage my colleagues in Congress to work together toward a more feasible strategy so that all of our constituents and their livelihoods are protected.”

To learn more about flood rates, visit www.fema.gov/.


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