U.S. Representatives John Garamendi and Doug LaMalfa reintroduced H.R. 830 in January that would direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency to develop a new flood mapping zone for basins in the Sacramento Valley – and elsewhere – protected by levees that do not currently meet the federally mandated 100-year level of flood protection.
The bipartisan Flood Insurance for Farmers Act of 2019 would also lift the de facto federal prohibition on construction and repair of agricultural structures in high flood-risk areas designated by FEMA.
“We are concerned that current FEMA floodplain regulatory policies place a disproportionate economic burden on agricultural areas and rural communities in the regulatory floodplain,” Chairman Kent Boes noted in the March 5 letter. “Farmers are currently experiencing difficulty meeting FEMA required potential flood level in a way that allows their property to remain useful, beneficial, and affordable to their operations.”
Officials said that when Colusa County is remapped by FEMA, much of the county would be mapped into the special flood hazard zone since the county will not be able to fund improvements to provide 100-year flood protection.
“This will be debilitating for our agricultural community, the backbone of our county,” Boes said.
The Flood Insurance for Farmers Act of 2019 will allow farmers in regulatory floodplains to build new structures and repair existing structures without being subject to base flood evaluation restrictions where it is not practical to farming operations. Rates under this new flood zone would also be based on actuarial risk, meaning if levees provide a 50-year level of flood protection FEMA would charge rates based on that discounted risk level.
“Sacramento Valley families have been farming the floodplain for generations, and my bill with Congressman LaMalfa ensures that growers can get more affordable flood insurance that takes into account the levees they pay to maintain,” Garamendi said, in a statement. “Our bipartisan bill will help keep agricultural land in production, which is the best way to push back against irresponsible subdivisions in the floodplain that place lives at risk and force farms onto the auction block.”
Currently, FEMA assumes there is zero protection if a levee does not meet the federally mandated 100-year level of flood protection and charges full-cost National Flood Insurance Program rates.
“This effectively precludes Sacramento Valley farmers from making capital improvements on their operations or securing the necessary financing for such capital improvements,” officials said.
The Flood Insurance for Farmers Act of 2019 currently awaits action by the House Financial Services Committee. It is endorsed by the California Rice Commission, USA Rice Federation, and California Farm Bureau Federation. ■