The EU Floods Directive’s implementation may offer ideas for the future direction of the NFIP

Feb 22, 2019 | News & Views, What's New

By David Powers, CDM Smith, ASFPM
International Committee Co-chair

It has been widely
acknowledged that part of the NFIP’s reform should include moving toward a
risk-informed approach to flood mapping. This position has been asserted by:

NAS 2013 report “Levees and the National
Flood Insurance Program: Improving Policies and Practices”

Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of

Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act
of 2014

Water Resources Reform and Development Act
of 2014

Recommendations from the TMAC, 2015 and

FEMA/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
coordination and collaboration on levee modeling practices and safety
since the issuance of the Water Resources Development Act of 2007.

Over the last couple of
years, there have been several presentations at ASFPM’s annual national
conference that show FEMA is making significant strides to move toward a
risk-informed approach to insurance rates, modelling and mapping. As FEMA
grapples with what these changes will look like in the future, it may be
helpful to explore how other countries are regulating flood risk. ASFPM’s
International Committee has proposed a series of articles for this
newsletter that look specifically at how flood risk is managed overseas,
starting with Europe.

The EU established the “Floods Directive” in 2007, which expanded on the
requirements of the “Water Directive” from 2000. Coming from an NFIP
perspective, there are a couple of things about the Floods Directive that stand
out on first read. First, at a total length of eight pages, it is a VERY short
piece of legislation. Second, it lays out the goals and objectives, and
establishes metrics that need to be met for compliance, but it does not
prescribe how a member state complies with the order. This is analogous to FEMA
setting in place guidance that each state would meet and deemed relevant to its
situation (e.g. data availability, nature of hazards, population density, etc.).
Indeed, each country in the EU (under the principle of subsidiarity embodied in
the EU treaties) approaches compliance with the Floods Directive in a way that
works for it and its existing national legislation.

The Floods Directive states
explicitly that floods: cause fatalities, displace people, damage the
environment, harm the economy, and that while flooding is a natural occurrence,
human activity can exacerbate damage. It goes on to state that the goals are to
reduce adverse effects to: human health and life, environment (water quality
and ecology), and economic activity and infrastructure. While these statements
seem obvious, they establish a proactive stance for dealing with flood risks
that is lacking in the U.S. where the NFIP is highly reactionary.

The Floods Directive is
broken down into eight chapters. Chapter
I, V, VI, VII and VIII are primarily administrative in nature and contain general
provisions, coordination with other directives, transitional measures, etc. Therefore,
the flood risk products are defined as follows:

Chapter II requires that each member state complete a
“Preliminary Risk Assessment” by December 2011 (and every six years
thereafter), and defines the elements that are to be contained in this
assessment as

watershed based

make use of readily available

capture historical flood events

assess the potential adverse
consequences of future floods.

Chapter III requires that each member state complete “Flood Hazard Maps”and “Flood Risk Maps” by December 2013 (and every six years
thereafter). Flood Hazard Maps must assess low probability flooding (which
is not defined explicitly), medium probability flooding (defined as the
100-year or greater), and high probability flooding (where appropriate). Flood
Risk Maps must take into account: the number of inhabitants affected, the
type(s) of economic activity affected and environmental costs.

Chapter IV requires each member state complete and
publish watershed based “Flood Risk Management Plans” by December 2015
(and every six years thereafter). This must include “appropriate
objectives” to reduce adverse consequences from flooding for: human
health, the environment, cultural heritage and economic activity. Furthermore,
the Flood Risk Management Plans must provide measures to reduce the
likelihood of flooding, and focus on prevention, protection and

U.S. and the EU face different flood risk management challenges. Many of these
challenges are contextual based on governance, history, geography, types of hazards,
culture, etc. To learn from what others are doing, we must first understand how
their context differs from ours. In the upcoming months, the International
Committee will be presenting a series of articles in the newsletter that help
bridge the contextual divide and show how member states in the EU are
incorporating risk analyses into their management of flood prone areas. One
such article, by Klaus Piroth, which
can be found in this issue of the newsletter, discusses a recent Flood Risk
Symposium on the German Risk Management of Extreme Floods
working group.