Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Red River flooding shows broken US flood policy.


Freezing temperatures are locking up water for now and the Red River's level is dropping at Fargo, but may climb yet again next week.

Here's an interesting piece from the NY Times contrasting Grand Forks, which suffered $1.5 billion in damages in 1997 and subsequently built a federally-subsidized $409 million floodwall, and Fargo, which escaped devastation during that flood and was unable to get sufficient federal funding. There was apparently some unwillingness among Fargo residents as well--most people don't want a big wall between them and the river unless it's threatening them.

This AP story is shocking. Despite more than adequate warning and a long history of flooding, only a small percentage of Fargo residents have flood insurance:

Federal Emergency Management Agency reports show that in the besieged city of Fargo, N.D., with a population of 92,000, only 586 homeowners have policies — including just 90 in the area of highest flood risk. In neighboring Moorhead, a city of 30,000, that number is a mere 145.

In fact, only 4,558 homeowners in the entire state of North Dakota and fewer than 9,000 in Minnesota carried flood insurance as of January, the most recent figures available.

FEMA and state officials tried to get the message out about flood insurance after the devastating 1997 Red River flood, which submerged Grand Forks, N.D., and caused an estimated $4.1 billion in damage. Only 743 homeowners in Grand Forks now carry flood insurance.

"Memories are short, and people don't remember the 1997 flood," said Butch Kinerney, spokesman for the National Flood Insurance Program, managed by FEMA. "You see it time and time again: People forget the past."


Photo of Grand Forks floodwall construction from the NY Times article.

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