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Is Florida prepared for the floods that are coming? | Column
Congressional leaders must take a smarter approach so natural disasters do not further cripple the financial health of our local, state and federal government, writes the executive director of the Florida Rural Water Association.
This 2013 photo shows flooding on Duval Street in Key West, Fla. after roughly five inches of rainfall.
This 2013 photo shows flooding on Duval Street in Key West, Fla. after roughly five inches of rainfall. [ ROB O'NEAL | AP ]
Published May 18, 2020

Since 2000, flood-related disasters have cost taxpayers more than $845 billion with much of this spending on projects to maintain the status quo instead of building better and stronger for tomorrow. This broken cycle of misguided, disconnected emergency spending is unsustainable in even the best times.

Now, as our state and nation come together and find ways to recover from the economic toll taken by COVID-19, and prepare for the June 1 hurricane season, we simply cannot afford to continue down this path. Congressional leaders must act now and take a smarter approach so future natural disasters and flood events do not further cripple the financial health of our local, state, and federal government.

In Florida, we know all too well the destruction brought forth by hurricanes, and that flooding causes the most devastating and lasting damage. Flooding is the costliest and most common natural disaster in the United States and Florida is especially vulnerable to its impacts. According to the Florida Division of Emergency Management, more than 1.34 million Floridians live in flood-risk areas, more than 2,500 critical facilities are at risk from flooding, and more than 14,000 properties have seen repetitive losses.

Gary Williams, executive director of the Florida Rural Water Association.
Gary Williams, executive director of the Florida Rural Water Association. [ Florida Rural Water Association. ]

The situation our state finds itself in is alarming. Looking forward, the question we must ask ourselves is not whether communities in Florida will flood, but whether we are properly prepared for when the flooding occurs. Of course, in too many communities the answer to this important question is no – and the coronavirus has only made this problem more severe.

Thankfully, there is a smarter approach to solving this issue. A federal bill (H.R. 1610) by Florida’s own U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, and U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, to establish a State Flood Mitigation Revolving Fund is before Congress. Establishing a flood mitigation revolving fund would provide access to critical capital for states to provide funding assistance to help homeowners, businesses, nonprofits and municipalities reduce flood risk, decrease loss of life and property, cut the cost of flood insurance, and curtail future federal disaster payments. This fund would bring together local, state and federal partners to create solutions tailored to the needs of individual communities, helping to ensure that dollars invested in flood mitigation are maximized to keep families safe.

We need to look no further than our own backyard to see the success of investing in mitigation. Pre-disaster mitigation projects completed in Florida at a cost of $19 million before Hurricane Matthew resulted in avoided losses of more than $81 million – a 422 percent return on investment. Additionally, a 2017 study from the National Institute of Building Sciences concluded that for every $1 spent on hazard mitigation, $6 is saved in future disaster costs.

The State Flood Mitigation Revolving Fund is a commonsense approach to address the critical and deadly force threatening communities in every state across America. Congress must take up this good bill and place the safety of families and the wellbeing of communities across our state and nation first.

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Gary Williams is the executive director of the Florida Rural Water Association (FRWA).