Bi-partisan Bills in the House and Senate would vastly improve flood monitoring, forecasting, and communication efforts
MADISON, WI – March 4. 2021 – Flooding is the most common, deadly, and costly natural disaster in the United States. In recent years, flood frequency and severity have increased, fueled by the effects of climate change, increased rainfall, and more intense weather and storm conditions. This has been exacerbated by poor decision-making and siting of development, aging and sometimes unmaintained infrastructure, and outdated data models. Bi-partisan legislation introduced in both the House and Senate in the past few days could help.
As a supporter of these bills, the Association of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM) is encouraged that the 117th Congress has introduced this important legislation early in the session and that the bills have broad, bi-partisan support in both the House and Senate.
House FLOODS Act and PRECIP Act bills introduced
The Flood Level Observation, Operations, and Decision Support (FLOODS) Act (H.R. 1437) was introduced in the House by Representative Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), Environment Subcommittee Chair of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, and is co-sponsored by Deborah Ross (D-NC), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Charlie Crist (D-FL), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Albio Sires (D-NJ), Gwen Moore (D-WI), and Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ).
The FLOODS Act establishes a National Integrated Flood Information System to coordinate and integrate flood research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It also establishes partnerships with institutions of higher education to improve total water predictions and establishes a committee to ensure coordination of federal departments with joint or overlapping responsibilities in water management. The bill would improve flood risk communications, including flood watches and warnings.
A key component to the bill, from ASFPM’s perspective, is the authorization to update precipitation frequency data every five years throughout the United States. ASFPM led the effort to have NOAA directly fund the National Weather Service to update this data in the Atlas 14 series, which is used to develop flood maps and guide development and infrastructure to be more resilient to flooding. This data is sorely out of date, and in some regions the data is 50 years old. Further, the approach used today is a patchwork at best — only when states have an interest and are able to bring funding to the table is there an opportunity to update these data. Finally, this authorized program would also direct NOAA to generate future looking data, in addition to an analysis of past data.
Rep. Sherrill has also introduced the Providing Research and Estimates of Changes in Precipitation Act (PRECIP) Act (H.R. 1438), which directs NOAA to provide comprehensive and regularly updated Federal precipitation information.
In addition to addressing Atlas 14 needs, an important component of the PRECIP bill, from ASFPM’s viewpoint, is updating the nation’s probable maximum precipitation (PMP) estimates — first by calling for a national academies of science study of how PMP is currently being calculated in the country and then establishing a nationwide program for updating these data. PMP data is often used in the design of many high hazard dams, nuclear power plants, and other major hydraulic structures.
“The Association of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM) is thrilled to see the issues of rainfall estimation, flood warning, and flood risk communication being comprehensively addressed by the FLOODS and PRECIP acts,” said ASFPM’s Executive Director Chad Berginnis. “By leveraging the capability and scale of the federal government to comprehensively address these basic data collection and dissemination functions, we can make meaningful progress in our fight against escalating flood impacts to our homes, businesses, communities, and citizens.”
“Flooding can be devastating for homeowners, business owners, and communities across the country,” said Rep. Sherrill. “We’ve seen the impact right here in North Jersey with repeat flooding events. The FLOODS Act and the PRECIP Act will help the federal government improve forecasting and communication of flood, tornado, and hurricane events to better serve communities at risk for flooding events.”
Senate FLOODS Act bill introduced
On March 3, Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and Senator Gary Peters (D-Mich.) introduced the Senate version of the FLOODS Act (S. 558), which is very similar to what was introduced in the House as well as an earlier bill (S. 4462) that passed the full Senate in November 2020, but didn’t quite make it to the House floor for approval during the lame duck session.
“Flooding is a common and deadly natural disaster in the U.S., resulting in over $25 billion in annual economic losses,” said Sen. Wicker. “Events in my home state of Mississippi, such as the prolonged opening of the Bonnet Carré spillway and the Pearl River and Yazoo backwater floods, underscore the importance of an effective understanding and response to high water. This legislation would protect lives and property by directing NOAA to improve its flood monitoring, forecasting, and communication efforts. I am eager to see the measure advance for Mississippians and all Americans who face dangers caused by flooding.”
“Unexpected severe flooding has too often upended the lives of families and hard-working men and women in Michigan and across the nation,” said Sen. Peters. “I’m pleased to reintroduce this bipartisan bill that would help protect families and small businesses along high-risk shorelines and other communities by modernizing flood forecasts to provide more timely, actionable information. I am hopeful we can again pass this legislation through the Senate and look forward to enacting it into law.”
ASFPM is hopeful the legislation passes quickly through the House and Senate so that the nation can begin to better protect itself from the increasing dangers of flooding.
Founded in 1977, the Association of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM) is a scientific and educational nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing flood loss in the nation. ASFPM and its 37 chapters represent approximately 20,000 state and local officials as well as other professionals engaged in all aspects of floodplain management and flood hazard mitigation, including management of local floodplain ordinances, flood risk mapping, engineering, planning, community development, hydrology, forecasting, emergency response, water resources development, and flood insurance. Visit us at www.floods.org.