Upper Mississippi River Basin Association
Flood Loss Reduction Act of 2001 (H.R. 2021)
(Approved August 22, 2001)
The Upper Mississippi River Basin Association (UMRBA) is a strong supporter of predisaster planning and hazard mitigation to reduce flood losses. UMRBA also believes floodplain management is the shared responsibility of local, state, and federal government. Based on these principles, the UMRBA offers the following comments on the “Flood Loss Reduction Act of 2001” (H.R. 2021):
Section 3 would amend the authority, originally provided in the Water Resources Development Act of 1999, for the Corps of Engineers to develop a “comprehensive plan” for the Upper Mississippi River. In particular, the existing description of the scope and content of the plan would be replaced by a directive that the Corps and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) collaboratively develop “a plan to reduce flood losses in the Upper Mississippi River floodplain, including consideration of structural and nonstructural measures.” The plan would be completed within six months and would be done “in consultation with local and state interests.”
UMRBA believes that such a flood loss reduction plan could potentially be very useful, whether undertaken as described in Section 3 or as described more broadly in the original WRDA 1999, language. However, it should be noted that funding to begin work on the plan, as authorized in WRDA 1999, has yet to be provided. The Senate version of FY 02 Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill (S. 2311) includes $500,000 for the planning effort and the House version includes $1 million. Although the final funding level has not yet been determined, it is likely that some funding will be provided to initiate planning in FY 02. Any amendments to the authorizing language would be most appropriate prior to beginning the planning process.
In addition, UMRBA is concerned that the 6-month planning period required in H.R. 2021 is inadequate, particularly if meaningful interagency collaboration is to be achieved. The requirement that the plan be completed within 6 months also appears inconsistent with the existing authorizing language, which requires that the Corps of Engineers report to Congress within 3 years after funds are provided. The 3-year report requirement would not be altered by H.R. 2021. UMRBA recommends a three year planning period for the Flood Loss Reduction Study authorized in Section 3.
Section 4 would amend the authorization for what is called the Challenge 21 Program. Originally authorized in WRDA 1999, this program allows the Corps of Engineers to undertake projects “to reduce flood hazards and restore the natural functions and values of rivers throughout the United States.” Nonfederal cost-sharing is required for both the study and implementation of each Challenge 21 project. H.R. 2021 would increase the annual authorized appropriations for the Challenge 21 program from $30 million to $100 million and would add nine Upper Mississippi River counties to the list of 28 priority areas already identified in law.
The UMRBA generally supports the goals of the Challenge 21 Program and would therefore have no objection to increasing the authorized funding level. However, it should be noted that, since originally authorized in 1999, the program has never been funded by Congress. Securing appropriations would thus seem to be the top priority.
With regard to the proposed addition of nine river counties to the list of Challenge 21 priority areas, the UMRBA states do not favor such designations to the exclusion of other areas that may also benefit from the program. However, we would note that the flood loss reduction plan authorized in Section 3 of H.R. 2021, when completed, may help identify river communities that would be well-suited to the Challenge 21 program.
Section 5 would amend federal disaster laws by increasing the percentage of disaster relief funds available for hazard mitigation from 15 percent to 25 percent. In states with FEMA-approved mitigation plans, the percentage would be increased from 20 percent to 30 percent.
The UMRBA supports the use of a portion of disaster relief funds for flood hazard mitigation. In particular, UMRBA supported the increase from 10 percent to the current 15 percent when that change was made following the 1993 Midwest flooding. Increasing the percentage further would be a welcome incremental change. However, it should be noted that the provision allowing states with mitigation plans to qualify for a higher percentage has only been in effect since October 2000, when the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000 was enacted. FEMA has not yet issued rules implementing the option for increased mitigation funding to states with plans. Therefore, it may be more prudent to await publication of those rules before seeking a change in the authorization.
Secondly, UMRBA notes that predisaster mitigation is as important, if not more so, as post disaster mitigation. In the absence of disaster declarations, communities still need support for their flood hazard mitigation efforts. Unfortunately, predisaster mitigation funding options are limited. The states, acting through the Association of State Floodplain Managers and National Emergency Management Association, worked hard to establish a Predisaster Mitigation Fund as part of the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000. With that authority now in place, the Upper Mississippi River Basin states, as well as states across the country, are eager to see it funded. While the emphasis in H.R. 2021 is on post disaster funding we must not lose sight of the opportunities to help communities on an on-going basis to plan and implement mitigation measures.
Section 6 would require the Corps of Engineers and FEMA to develop an annual priority list of flood damage reduction and predisaster hazard mitigation projects and publish the list in the Federal Register. The rankings are to be based on “the extent to which projects address repetitive loss structures, include nonstructural features, and restore natural rivers and floodplains.”
While Section 6 only requires that a prioritized list be published, the implication is certainly that such a list would provide the basis for decision-making regarding funding or other federal actions. Although the three criteria set forth in Section 6 are important considerations, they should not be the sole determinants of which projects are ultimately implemented. Other factors such as state and local support, willingness to cost-share, and cost-effectiveness, are also important. Furthermore, ranking projects on a national basis fails to recognize the differing needs and conditions in individual states or regions. UMRBA thus recommends that Section 6 be deleted.
 The Governors of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin formed the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association in 1981 to coordinate the state agencies’ river-related programs and policies and to work with federal agencies on regional issues.