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Renewed Focus on Flood Risk Management Following Harvey


The tragic cost of Tropical Storm Harvey has renewed concern – not to mention criticism – of President Donald Trump evoking the executive order to establish federal flood risk management standards.

The order was signed on August 15th and it revoked a previous executive order signed by former President Barack Obama on Jan. 30 2015, establishing a standard and the stakeholder input process.

The director of the flood-prepared communities initiative of the Pew Charitable trusts of Washington spoke of how disappointed the organization was that the Obama executive order was repealed. The executive order of Obama would have guaranteed that public infrastructure funded through federal money – including hospitals, utilities, and roads – would be built to high standards to be able to withstand floods and make use of the latest scientific advances to minimize potential flood risks.

The executive order from Obama stated that the United States must improve upon the resilience of federal assets and communities against flooding damage. It draws attention to how these damages are expected to get worse over time as threats including climate change continue to worsen. The losses caused by flooding will affect the overall environment, the economic prosperity, and the health and safety of the public; all of which also threatens national security.

President Obama’s executive order was implemented to amend an executive order from 1977 on floodplain management. That executive order called for federal agencies to avoid long-and-short term impacts of occupying and modifying floodplains, as well as calling for the avoidance of direct or indirect support of developing on floodplains when there would be a more practical alternative.

The executive order from 2015 built the interagency effort to establish new standards for flood-risk reduction on federally funded projects. The framework was put in place to increase resilience against flood, which would preserve the natural beauty and value of floodplains.

The order would have applied to federal money; given the amount of federal dollars' congress will now spend on rebuilding infrastructure following the damage of Harvey, it would have had an impact on resilience. President Trump issued a statement on Monday that his administration will work with Congress in order to secure funding for the rebuilding efforts in areas affected by Harvey as soon as possible.

President Trump says that FEMA already has the money to help Texas and Louisiana if necessary, but they would need to go through Congress to secure all the money that will be needed to really help; which would be in the billions. He is confident that the money will come through Congress quickly.

Right now Congress have the chance to not just provide immediate relief, but they also have the chance to reinstate the flood policy and ensure that any rebuilding that happens in the 18 counties of Texas covered by federal disaster declarations is done with an eye on the future.

Climate scientists are continuing to analyze and discuss the potential impacts of the water in the Gulf of Mexico heating up on how often these storms occur. This is information that must be kept in mind during the rebuilding process to ensure protection against environmental damage.