RL33129 - Flood Risk Management: Federal Role in Infrastructure
20-Jun-2008; Betsy A. Cody and Nicole T. Carter; 12 p.
Update: Previous Editions:
January 18, 2007
December 5, 2005
October 26, 2005
Abstract: Midwestern flooding and Hurricane Katrina have raised concerns about reducing human and economic losses from flooding. In the United States, local governments are responsible for land use and zoning decisions that shape floodplain and coastal development; however, state and federal governments also influence community and individual decisions on managing flood risk. The federal government constructs some of the nation’s flood control infrastructure, supports hazard mitigation, offers flood insurance, and provides emergency response and disaster aid for significant floods. In addition to constructing flood damage reduction infrastructure, state and local entities operate and maintain most of the flood control infrastructure and have initial flood-fighting responsibilities.
Prior to the Lower Mississippi River Flood of 1927, the federal role in flood control was limited. The Flood Control Act of 1936 (19 Stat. 1570) declared some flood control a “proper” federal activity. Today, the federal agencies most involved in flood control and flood fighting and emergency response are the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The 110th Congress is faced with numerous flood control issues, including responding to disasters and adjusting federal flood policies. The recent midwestern floods and Hurricane Katrina have broadened interest in fundamental review of the current approach to managing floodwaters. Questions raised are: Do current policies, programs, and practices result in an acceptable level of aggregate national risk? Do they promote wise use and investments in the nation’s floodplains and coasts? Do they encourage development that puts people in harm’s way? Levees represent a particular challenge in that they may encourage development in flood-prone areas, but sometimes fail or are overtopped by significant storms. Hurricane Katrina brought national attention to the catastrophic consequences when structures fail or are breached. Similarly, two major midwestern floods in the span of 15 years (one in 1993 and one in 2008) have raised concerns about structures’ ability to reduce or avoid flood damages and their effects on development patterns.
The 110th Congress addressed some flood issues in the first omnibus Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) enacted after Hurricane Katrina — WRDA 2007 (P.L. 110-114). For example, WRDA 2007 requires that national water resources planning avoid the unwise use of floodplains and flood-prone areas, and requires the President to report by 2010 on national vulnerability to flood damages, including the risk to human life. This report is to include assessments of current programs and recommendations for improvements. The law also creates a Committee on Levee Safety to make recommendations for a national levee safety program. How these changes are implemented over the next few years may affect the nature of federal investment in flood and storm damage infrastructure and mitigation measures.
This report provides a primer on responsibilities for flood management, describes the role of federal agencies, and discusses flood issues before the 110th Congress. The report also discusses the legislative response to Hurricane Katrina.