Federal government not following N.J.'s lead in setting strict flood protection standards | Opinion
Brian Donohue | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
By Star-Ledger Guest Columnist
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on October 02, 2015 at 8:00 AM, updated October 02, 2015 at 8:11 AM
By David Kutner, John Miller and Joel Scata
From the Passaic River south to the Delaware Bay, communities in New Jersey are expected to experience more frequent and more severe flooding due to climate change.
But instead of sitting back and waiting for the next flood – which could come sooner than we'd like, with Hurricane Joaquin churning up the coast – New Jersey communities are already hard at work making sure new structures are built higher and stronger.
In Monmouth County's Little Silver borough, for example, new homes and apartment buildings must be built four feet above the predicted 100-year flood level to lessen flood damage. That's the highest such standard in the state.
And everywhere else, there's a minimum one-foot, statewide flooding standard to which almost all new or substantially improved buildings must adhere.
Those kinds of standards make a lot of sense. They show that New Jersey is putting the latest science and the best available flood maps to good use. And they help protect our communities from the growing dangers and the rising costs of floods worsened by climate change.
Unfortunately, smart local- and state-level standards don't currently apply to projects the federal government funds in New Jersey – or in any other state that has smart, tough flood standards. Right now, per the federal government's own outdated flood protection standard, federal projects only have to be built to the level of the 100-year flood, a flowrate used to estimate the probability and magnitude of floods nationwide.
That's a big problem. Why? Because our ability to predict flood risk is questionable. Looking back over the past century of floods has not led to accurate predictions of flood risk. In addition, climate change is disrupting our weather patterns and raising our sea levels. In New Jersey, the National Climate Assessment predicts that within the next 85 years, we will likely face nearly four feet of sea level rise.
This means the federal government's current standard needlessly – and repeatedly – exposes our schools, hospitals, treatment plants and other projects to more frequent and more severe floods. And again and again, it's the U.S. taxpayer left holding the soggy cleanup bill.
But things are beginning to change. In January, President Barack Obama updated via executive order the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard. Once put into effect, federally funded projects built in New Jersey – and everywhere else in the United States – must be built to meet tougher standards.
These smart standards will result in stronger, more resilient communities and a more conservative investment of taxpayer dollars.
Unfortunately, just as we're making progress, some in Congress are trying to include language in must-pass appropriations bills to prevent the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard from being implemented.
These maneuvers harm the American public, including the citizens of New Jersey. They undercut smart local and state policies that have the potential to save billions of dollars in disaster costs due to flooding – costs that are increasingly borne by the federal government.
Because they've lived through the aftermath of monster storms like Sandy, New Jersey's congressional delegation is in a prime position to defend tougher new federal flood standards, just like the ones we know are already working in communities like Little Silver.
That's why Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) – along with every other member of Congress from New Jersey who has seen, firsthand, the damage from more frequent and more severe flooding – should speak out against using appropriations procedures to block fiscally sound measures that protect New Jersey taxpayers, businesses and our families.
David Kutner is the recovery planning manager at New Jersey Future. John Miller is the legislative committee chair for the New Jersey Association for Floodplain Management. Joel Scata is a water policy advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group headquartered in New York City.
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