Stop building on floodplains, say flood-hit U.S. families

by Sebastien Malo | @SebastienMalo | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 24 June 2019 22:08 GMT

Tom Geisler surveys damaged to his farm, following flooding in Winslow, outside Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Humeyra Pamuk

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Flood victims plan to bombard U.S. lawmakers with images of the human toll of flooding

By Sebastien Malo

NEW YORK, June 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Victims of worsening floods linked to climate change plan to "bombard" U.S. lawmakers with videos and postcards showing the human toll of flooding, organizers of the campaign said Monday.

The push by local and regional leaders across 16 U.S. states suffering worsening floods aims to halt development in low-lying floodplains and drive swifter action on climate change.

It comes as farmers and families in the U.S. Midwest struggle to recover from record-breaking floods that have kept many farmers from planting crops so far this year.

"When will our legislators get the message?" asked Hilton Kelly, a member of the campaign and a resident of Port Author, Texas, which was flooded after heavy rain from Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

The Higher Ground coalition of flood survivors, from states ranging from Florida to Missouri and Illinois, plans to "bombard local, state and national politicians with videos, photographs, emails and postcards documenting flooding" starting next Monday, coalition members said.

About 5% of the U.S. population in 2015 lived in areas expected to flood every 100 years, according to a 2017 report by New York University's Furman Center.

But building in these areas is not prohibited so long as regulations to reduce risks are followed and owners purchase flood insurance, said Carlos Martin, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, a Washington-based think tank.

That is despite the National Climate Assessment, a U.S. government report published last November, noting that the impacts of climate change - including more frequent and powerful storms and floods - are already under way.

"Development continues in places that are less than ideal - known floodplains and future ones," Martin said.

Some state legislatures and municipalities have put in place their own more stringent restrictions on building in low-lying areas, said Chad Berginnis, executive director of the Association of State Floodplain Managers, a non-profit.

About a half-dozen states, including Illinois and Wisconsin, have adopted floodplain building rules tighter than federal ones, and a few dozen communities have prohibited building on floodplains altogether, he said.

The beefed-up regulations have helped prevent losses, he said.

"The communities who have those kind of standards on their books typically experience less flood damage," Berginnis said.

Higher Ground members will seek to push other local and state elected officials to follow suit by tagging them in images documenting flooding and seeking meetings, said Harriet Festing, who heads the group.

Members also plans to send lawmakers postcards showing a U.S. flag with its stripes replaced with an image of blue flood waters on which homes are reflected.

Higher Ground representatives said they were launching a campaign now because they sensed "a mass of ... people who want to speak out", including tens of thousands of its own individual members who have lost homes to floods.

(Reporting by Sebastien Malo @sebastienmalo, Editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers climate change, humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

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