Thursday, April 13, 2006

Your raised house still might flood again

Dan Swenson, The Times-Picayune:

Notice what's being implied in the new FEMA guidelines for raising flooded houses. By not altering the base flood elevations of 1984, FEMA is acknowledging that the reason why New Orleans homes flooded was not because they were built in low-lying areas, but because the levees failed. The only other explanation -- and I'm not excluding the possibility -- is that FEMA didn't finish the job of reworking new flood maps with new elevation and flood data in hand.

There's something else to recognized in the new FEMA building guidelines. Looking at the graphic above, even after raising the house, it will still flood if there's another flood event like Katrina.

Let me explain, because it wasn't immediately clear to me how the new FEMA guidelines were being portrayed in the graphic. The new guidelines state that you must raise your home if it sustained 50 percent damage from flooding.

What's 50 percent? That's 50 percent of the pre-Katrina market value of the house (not including the value of the land).

How high do you have to raise your house? FEMA is saying that you have to raise your house a minimum of three feet above the ground, or to the base flood elevation, whichever is higher.

In the graphic, the higher elevation is base flood elevation, not the ground. Raising the house the minimum of three feet above ground level still leaves it short of the base flood elevation. The house has to be raised at least to base flood elevation in this case. Therefore, since the house is currently at ground level, six feet below sea level, it has to be raised 3.5 feet to base flood elevation.

Again, notice that in the second frame of the graphic, even after the house is raised, it's still below sea level. If the levees break again, the sea water entering the city would equalize with the city, flooding this house once again.

What's going on here? Why should the government and homeowners spend the money at all to raise homes if they'll just flood again? Seriously -- I'm wondering! Far from trying to be a pessimist, I'm just saying I don't see how this makes any sense. I think a more sensible policy should be implemented.

The implicit concession by FEMA is that New Orleans homes wouldn't have flooded if the levees hadn't broken!

So now FEMA is fixing the problem by asking homeowners to raise their houses a little, but not enough to solve the problem if the levees fail again in the future, and the city floods once more.

Either FEMA is investing confidence in the fact that the levees are really being fixed now, or it's trying to go easy on homeowners, or it's just not making sensible policy -- none of which offers residents any sense of assurance that "adults" are running the federal government.

A more sensible policy would be:

1) A total commitment by the White House and Congress to massive coastal restoration and Category 5 storm protection,


2) Helping homeowners to raise their homes to a level that would truly prevent catastrophic property damage in the future.


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