Climate Change Is Sinking the National Flood Insurance Program

Tens of thousands of American families live in repeatedly flooded properties—and many feel like there’s no way out.

The following is a transcript of the video.

Olga McKissic, Louisville, Kentucky: My house flooded in 1997, in 2006, in 2013, and in 2015. It put our life on pause.

Standing from the front porch, the water came up to here. So, all of this was covered.

Rob Moore, senior policy analyst, NRDC Water program: So, imagine living in a home that's flooded every two to three years and what a hardship that would be on you and your family.

Through the National Flood Insurance Program, we know there are about 30,000 properties that flood repeatedly. On average, these properties have flooded about five times.

Because of climate change and the resulting sea-level rise and increase in flooding on inland waterways that we'll experience in this country, millions of people are going to find themselves in this identical situation.

McKissic: And this is where the water just kept coming. It travels all the way to my home.

Moore: So, we need to make it easier for people to move out of the areas that are the greatest risk of flood.

So, one of the core problems of the National Flood Insurance Program is it's primarily designed to help people rebuild in the same place, in the same vulnerable location. Another shortcoming of the current system is that people have a very limited ability to find out flood history of the property that they live in, or perhaps they're renting, or even purchasing.

So, the end result of these two problems is that it can unintentionally trap homeowners in a situation nobody really wants to be in.

McKissic: I want to make sure you get a very clear picture about the water that came into my home. It was 18 to 20 inches every single time. When I reached this point, the water was all the way up to the third step.

In the family room downstairs, when it flooded, there was carpeting down there, so we took the carpeting up. And we put linoleum down. And then the next time it flooded, we had to take that up, and we put tile down. The last time it flooded, I'm not doing anything. It's concrete, so we just painted the floor.

This is where the water came up. We had to cut out the drywall there. So, we didn't replace the drywall here because we felt like it was a waste of time, a waste of money. Because it's just gonna get flooded again.

Moore: Currently, assistance is available to help people move to a less vulnerable location. But these efforts aren't particularly well-funded. For the people that are interested, it can be years of waiting before they find out if their home is actually going to be purchased. And all that time, they're left wondering: Is my house going to flood again before I'm able to actually move somewhere else?

McKissic: I have mounds and mounds of paper, and I'm still waiting. I am still waiting.

Moore: What NRDC has proposed is to allow people to lock in a guarantee of assistance to relocate in the future. What that means is, is after a flood causes substantial damage to the property, they would immediately get an expedited buyout of their home.

So, instead of having to go through the pain of rebuilding their property and wondering if a buyout might be offered later, they would already have that process underway.

Our proposal would also give the homeowner a right to know the past history of flooding on their property. They'd be much better informed about the potential for flooding in the future.

McKissic: Just three doors down, there's a house that also flooded a lot. Just as many times as my home has flooded. And they were able to kind of maneuver through the system, and now that home has been removed.

When they acquired that home, they knocked it down and turned it into green space. And that's what it should be here—should be just green space.

Moore: So, this is a problem that can't be avoided and can't be ignored. We're going to be spending hundreds of billions of dollars to repeatedly rebuild properties that are inevitably going to be flooded over and over again. And that's just not sustainable.

McKissic: You know that property that we purchased back in 1986 that we thought was such a wonderful, tranquil, lovely place? It's a nightmare to live here with the thought and the anticipation that it is going to flood again.

And I don't want other people to have to go through this.

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