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Spring 2013

Flood Zone Remapping Costs Property Owners

For the past few years the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has undertaken a large effort to remap all of the floodplain in the Central Valley of California.  The levees in many of these small rural agricultural communities are being decertified due the fact they do not provide 100 year level of protection.    

As FEMA works its way through the largest remapping effort to date, California’s Central Valley is being hit hard with building restrictions and high priced mandatory flood insurance rates.  Many may remember when Sacramento County was hit with a building moratorium until large scale levee improvements were completed.  There were even examples in Sacramento County, such as when a house in Natomas burnt down and the property owner was not allowed to rebuild the structure because federal regulations did not allow for such an exemption from the moratorium. 

While urban communities move forward with levee improvements to relieve the flood insurance rates and building restrictions, rural communities are left with a much different reality. Rural agricultural communities are faced with the same restrictions but lack adequate resources to make large scale levee improvements.

Take the town of Nicolas in Sutter County.   They were remapped into a “Special Flood Hazard Area”.  Sutter County can no longer issue a building permit that would allow for any structure to be improved over 50 percent or to build any new structures unless they are elevated over the base flood elevation or flood proofed.  A structure would have to be elevated between 10 and 15 feet or be flood proofed.  These restrictions are nearly impossible for agricultural processing facilities, especially rice dryers. 

Also, once areas are remapped into “Special Flood Hazard Zones”, it is mandatory to obtain flood insurance for any structure that has a federally backed loan.  This applies to most homes, barns, warehouses and dryers that are financed.  Recent federal legislation known as the Biggers-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 will dramatically increase flood insurance rates across the country.  The new rate structure will be implemented in late 2013.  Preliminary numbers show that it will cost a resident between $2,500 to $25,000 annually to obtain mandatory flood insure in many rural areas in California.  The rate is determined by your base flood elevation of your home or business. The cost for commercial structures will likely be much higher than residential rates. 

The insurance rate is determined by reference to the Base Flood Elevation only, and does not take into account that the area may be protected by a levee.  This does not make sense when applied to the Central Valley which has substantial levee even in the rural areas.  Even if that levee does not provide 100 year level of protection it still provides substantial flood protection and flooding will not be frequent as an unleveed area.  It is critical the FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program take this into account when determining flood insurance rates. 

The Central Valley is a unique case and it is difficult to get federal support to make changes to FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program.

The Agricultural Flood Management Alliance (AFMA) has formed to help create policy that would not disproportionally burden rural agricultural communities through FEMA’s floodplain remapping process.  Many at the federal level agree that agricultural is the best compatible land use for our flood plain but federal policy does not allow for any type of exemptions

There is a lot on the line for rural agricultural communities.  Most of the counties were remapped in 2012 and it is expected for Colusa County to be remapped in 2014 or 2015.  While FEMA’s process may be very slow, it does not allow very much time to address these critical issues.  The insurance rates alone will cripple small cities, towns and rural agricultural areas in California. 

Farmers, businesses, landowners, and governmental agencies have banded together to form AFMA.  The group needs letters of support sent to the Government Accountability Office to support a study to address these critical issues.  Please visit their website at    ■

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