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Floodplain Development Grows as Regulations Shrink

More Americans are moving to high-risk flood zones as environmental deregulation wins the day.
August 21, 2018, 10am PDT | Elana Eden
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Paul Sableman

Significant residential and commercial development is increasing the population in flood zones around the country, according to an analysis by Governing.

"Nationally, the number of Americans living in these high-risk areas in 2016 climbed 14 percent compared to those living in the same neighborhoods in 2000. That's actually faster than in areas outside of flood zones, where the population increased 13 percent … In fact, nearly all states recorded net population gains across their FEMA-designated floodplains in recent years."

The federal government has taken significant steps to allow more development in floodplains—like scrapping the Flood Risk Management Standard and scaling back the Waters of the United States Rule—but cities are guilty of trying to skirt restrictions as well, as writer Mike Maciag details. And for people already living in flood zones, it's easier to get disaster assistance than relocation assistance.

In a case study of South Carolina's Johns Island, Maciag concludes that better coordinated planning among jurisdictions could result in more holistic protection of watersheds and safer development. "The best solution would be a unified, interconnected drainage plan for the entire island rather than one that has developers accounting only for their individual properties," he suggests.

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Published on Monday, August 6, 2018 in Governing
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