Thursday, July 11, 2013

In the Flood Zone

In the aftermath of Sandy, FEMA issued new flood maps for the coastal areas in my part of the world.  The objective of these flood maps is to map out areas where flooding is likely so that homeowners can make plans (some folks need to raise their homes) or pay flood insurance rates that reflect their actual potential for serious damage.  Both prospects are expensive, of course, but they are also what is required to live by the water in the world of climate change.  

Or so you would think.  As it turns out, the news that more homes are in the high-risk flood regions, information that is hardly surprising news for people who flooded last fall, has caused endless complaining and hand-wringing in New Jersey.  There has been enough complaining for FEMA to issue new maps.  The new maps show less risk, thus ensuring that these folks can get less-expensive flood insurance and will undertake less flood prevention measures.

That would be just fine with me if the homeowners were really on their own.  But in point of fact, when flooding happens, and it will happen, homeowners along the shore will want help from the rest of us.  They will want that help despite the obvious risks they undertook.  I find this terribly frustrating.  Folks who want to live by the water are undertaking a risk and I am all for allowing that risk as a personal choice.  However, let's generate cautious flood maps, ones that take account of the serious risks of living near the water, and force those who wish to do so to pay the real costs of that choice.

Let's also undertake to plan wisely for the climate change that is obviously already at our doorstep.  That's a project for citizens and their government and it won't be easy.  But it is a a lot easier than cleaning up the aftermath of disastrous storms.  And it is our responsibility to one another.  New York City's Mayor Bloomberg has a plan for discussion.  It's not perfect and it is controversial but it at least starts a conversation.  New Jersey should take a page from the Bloomburg playbook and start a serious conversation.  The current strategy of hiding our head in the sand is not going to help.

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