Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Climate change, and deforestation from surface mining or wildfires, put mountainous areas at risk of expensive floods

Counties ranked in ranges of percentages of property at risk for flood damage
First Street Foundation map; click the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version.

Climate change and deforestation are putting hundreds of small communities at risk of expensive flood damage they can ill afford, according to new data from the First Street Foundation, a nonprofit organization that researches flood risk and housing. Climate change has driven rising sea levels and heavier rainstorms. Areas at the highest risk of flooding are on the coasts and in mountainous areas where surface mining or wildfires have removed the trees that can mitigate flooding.

"More than 4 million houses and small apartment buildings across the contiguous U.S. have substantial risk of expensive flood damage," Rebecca Hersher, Huo Jingnan and Sophia Schmidt report for NPR. "The cost of flood damage to homes nationwide will increase by more than 50% in the next 30 years, the First Street Foundation estimates."

The poor, who often have inadequate or no flood insurance, are the most vulnerable to flood damage, "and the federal government is ill-prepared to address the problem through the current federal flood insurance program," NPR reports. Central Appalachia, which shows significant risk of flooding on the First Street map above, has particularly high poverty rates.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency warns that the foundation's analysis is only an estimate and notes that First Street did not conduct their analysis about financial impacts of flooding with input about the agency's new flood insurance pricing plan. "For homeowners who are currently underpaying for flood insurance, FEMA says it plans to raise rates by up to 18 percent each year until the price is accurate, according to a January report by the Congressional Research Service. The agency will begin rolling out the new pricing in October," NPR reports. "As the cost of insurance goes up, many people who need flood insurance will likely be unable to afford it, leaving them to face lasting damage."

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