Thursday, April 13, 2006

Doubts remain after FEMA flood maps issued

According information I learned while listening to a conversation between WWL host Garland Robinette, Toni Wendel of the Home Builders Association of Greater New Orleans, and a land surveyor who called in, the new FEMA building guidelines are nothing more than the same old 1984 base flood elevation determinations, plus three feet.

I know it's a difficult task to match the real elevations to historic rain-event flooding and the possibility of another flood event, but what's the product of all that hard work? To simply tack 3 feet on to outdated elevations?

There have been a considerable number of reports of subsidence which has occurred since 1984. Furthermore, applying the 1984 flood elevations, plus three feet, is a one-size-fits-all approach that doesn't take into account the widely varying topography of the city.

We discovered in Katrina's floodwaters that the city's elevation is not uniform at all, but varies from block to block, and from lot to lot.

New Orleanians might be grateful that FEMA finally produced guidelines. Now they can rebuild and, very importantly, still get flood insurance coverage. We need to be concerned, however, about preventing property damage from a flood event in the future. We want the flood insurance, but we really want to not have to use it again in the future.

I don't have the answer, but certainly if people are going to have to hire surveyors to measure the elevation of their homes, there ought to be a way to apply a more sensible formula for determining how much people will have to elevate their homes to prevent damage from another flooding event the next time the levees fail.

Additionally, we need people at the federal level to be thinking about Category 5 storm protection, and when they do that, we need them to appreciate the fact that levees are no good without massive restoration of coastal marshes.


At 4/13/2006 06:57:00 PM, Blogger oyster said...

1984 flood elevations + 3 feet = seven months of work?!?

WTF took so long?

At 4/13/2006 06:58:00 PM, Blogger Rob said...

I saw that the maps were out but I haven't had the chance to read much about them. It's disconcerting, however, to think that FEMA spent these many months while most of N.O. was waiting for Godot to simple do something they could've done in a couple of weeks (it takes time to alter and print them, you know). And to hear that the additional three feet were arrived at not through scientific method but arbitrarily as a median between 2 and 5 feet (?) is astonishing. Possibly more astonishing is that I can still be astonished by anything that happens in the federal government. Thank god I don't own a flooded house.

On a related note, one would think that FEMA had spent this time adjusting the maps for expected sea-level and temperature rise associated with global warming (and hence the higher risk of a Katrina-like storm), the flood gates the Corpse of Engineers are supposed to install where Pontchartrain meets the canals, not to mention the flood walls and levees, and the possibility of geological changes in part causing subsidence. But, unfortunately, one would be wrong. It's truly pathetic. I wish dearly that France or the Netherlands would buy us, or that we'd revolt and lose and be rewarded with the care that we richly deserve.

At 4/13/2006 06:59:00 PM, Blogger Rob said...

I meant "simply."

At 4/13/2006 08:02:00 PM, Blogger Schroeder said...

I agree. I want to believe that FEMA really did the best it could, and that now homeowners can move on. I feel as guilty as ever that, while I had substantial water around my house, I had no water inside my house because it was raised to almost five feet (a key feature that convinced me of its worth).

I'd like to believe there were hard-working GIS experts working on the problem at FEMA, but I'm afraid the truth may be that, instead, FEMA contracted out the work to some crony firm, then threw out whatever had been done when that firm couldn't deliver on schedule. I'd guess that a political decision was made to put something out there to keep from embarrassing the administration (further).

Sad. No, pathetic.

Can we just move on. Would that we as a community were able to shove aside the politicians and get done what we know has to be done!


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