RFF on the Issues

RFF on the Issues: Effective Flood Damage Repair and Risk Reduction

Heavy rains have led to extreme flooding in Missouri, causing road closures, property damage, and fatalities. Rain continues, and with it come added costs and disruption. The state is offering assistance to residents—and more will be available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) if President Trump issues a presidential disaster declaration. Rep. Justin Alferman (MO-R) suspects “that if more funds would be necessary to address flooding, it would be done through a supplemental appropriation during next year’s legislative session,” according to a report this week in Emergency Management.

The current flooding in Missouri and other recent flood events highlight the importance of doing more to reduce flood risk­—before disasters strike. Flooding causes more damage than any other disaster, but there are many measures that can be adopted to help minimize damages when they do occur. In the United States, very little money is available for risk reduction measures prior to a flood, as we explain in a recent Resources magazine article. In fact, over 90 percent of federal dollars for addressing flood risk are appropriated to flood-damaged areas in the aftermath of a disaster through off-budget, supplemental legislation. Post-disaster funds for immediate recovery are obviously needed. But in this work, we focus on the spending that is used to reduce future risk, paying for things like elevating properties, building levees, or moving flood-prone structures out of harm’s way. The fact that most federal dollars for flood risk reduction are spent post-disaster might create some revenue for areas in the Midwest now underwater to start making themselves safer. However, we believe that federal spending to reduce future flood risk could be more effective if it was redirected into annual budgets—in order to prioritize getting the most value for those dollars.

Read more analysis by RFF experts on natural disasters and extreme events.

RFF on the Issues connects today’s pressing news with related research and expertise at RFF.

The views expressed in RFF blog posts are those of the authors and should not be attributed to Resources for the Future.