Monday, September 13, 2010

FEMA revokes accreditation for hundreds of levees nationwide

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has declared hundreds of levees across the U.S. no longer suitable to ensure protection during major floods. The decision forces thousands of property owners to purchase flood insurance, Peter Eisler of USA Today reports. FEMA "revoked its accreditation of the levees as part of an effort to update the government's flood hazard maps, which guide state, local and federal decisions on development in flood-prone areas," Eisler writes. "Properties protected by the levees now are in flood hazard zones, which means owners who have federally backed mortgages are required by banking laws to carry flood insurance."

The maps updated so far by FEMA cover 65 percent of the U.S. population with most of 300 levees failing to gain accreditation in California and Arizona. Maps for the rest of the country are expected to be finished over the next three years, Eisler reports. "There's a lot of real money and real consequences to this," Rob Vining, adviser to Congress' National Committee on Levee Safety and former chief of civil works programs for the Army Corps of Engineers, told Eisler, noting many of the suspect levees protect prime and commercial real estate.

Local governments or other responsible parties must prove a levee is strong enough to protect against a flood so severe it has only a one percent chance of occurring each year. "Some communities where levees have deteriorated face tens of millions of dollars in rehabilitation to meet that standard," Eisler writes. The map updates are mandated by Congress, but several lawmakers from the affected areas are pushing for more time for the localities to improve flood protections, Eisler reports. (Read more)

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