By Gary Williams, Florida Rural Water Association
For decades, the American approach to disaster recovery has been simple — spend now, talk about innovating later, rinse, and repeat.
Since 2000, flood-related disasters have cost taxpayers more than $845 billion with much of this spending on projects to maintain the status quo instead of building better and stronger for tomorrow.
This broken cycle of misguided, disconnected emergency spending is unsustainable in even the best times. Now, as our state and nation come together and find ways to recover from the public health and economic toll taken by COVID-19, and prepare for hurricane season, we simply cannot afford to continue down this path.
Congressional leaders must act now so future natural disasters and flood events do not further cripple the financial health of our local, state, and federal government.
The economic toll that the novel coronavirus has taken on budgets in city halls, statehouses, and the federal government over the last three months cannot be overstated. Federal spending on the COVID-19 response has already topped $6 trillion and is growing.
The response to COVID-19 has devastated local and state budgets. All of this as we head into what is often the most expensive time of the year for governments — hurricane season.
In Florida, we know all too well the destruction brought forth by hurricanes, and that flooding causes the most devastating and lasting damage. Flooding is the costliest and most common natural disaster in the U.S. and Florida is especially vulnerable.
According to the Florida Division of Emergency Management, more than 1.34 million Floridians live in flood-risk areas; more than 2,500 critical facilities are at risk from flooding; and more than 14,000 properties have seen repetitive losses.
The situation our state finds itself in is alarming. Looking forward, the question we must ask ourselves is not whether communities in Florida will flood, but whether we are properly prepared for when the flooding occurs.
Of course, in too many Florida communities, the answer is no – and the coronavirus has only made this problem more severe.
But there is a smarter approach to solving this issue. A federal bill sponsored by Florida Congressman Charlie Crist (D-13) and Texas Congressman Roger Williams (R-25) to establish a State Flood Mitigation Revolving Fund is now before Congress.
Establishing such a fund would provide money to states to help homeowners, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and communities reduce flood risk, decrease the loss of life and property, trim the cost of flood insurance, and cut federal disaster payments.
This fund would bring together local, state, and federal partners to create solutions tailored to the needs of individual communities, helping to ensure that dollars invested in flood mitigation are maximized to keep families safe.
We need to look no further than our own backyard to see the success of investing in mitigation. Pre-disaster mitigation projects completed at a cost of $19 million prior to Hurricane Matthew resulted in avoided losses of more than $81 million.
Additionally, the National Institute of Building Sciences recently completed a study which concluded that for every $1 spent on hazard mitigation, $6 is saved in future disaster costs.
The proposed fund is a commonsense approach to address the deadly force threating communities in every state. Simply put: investments in mitigation today save lives and money tomorrow.
With the COVID-19 response already straining government finances, we can’t keep waiting to make the smart choice. Congress must take up this bill and place the safety of families and the wellbeing of communities across our state and nation first. The time to act is now.
Gary Williams is the executive director of the Florida Rural Water Association.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.