FEMA's Flood Maps Will Soon Account for 'Climate Change' and Other Newfangled Ideas

A map created by the Voice that in part uses FEMA's projections that the city has since (successfully) challenged.EXPAND
A map created by the Voice that in part uses FEMA's projections that the city has since (successfully) challenged.
Source: maps.nyc.gov/resiliency / Map by Joe Lertola/Bryan Christie Design

For the first time ever, the federal government will have to account for forward-looking climate science like sea level rise when it makes maps assessing flood risks for New York City residents.

Last year the de Blasio administration challenged FEMA’s flood map designations, arguing that the agency’s determinations were imprecise and not based on the latest science. FEMA issued a press release today indicating that the city prevailed.

“Revised flood maps will provide New York City residents with more precise current flood risk data, in addition to providing a new map product reflecting future conditions that account for climate change,” the release states.

FEMA’s flood maps are only supposed to provide a snapshot of risk for homeowners with mortgages who are required to buy flood insurance. Yet they have bled into zoning laws, land use regulations, and building codes, all while neglecting forward-looking climate science. Thousands of homes outside of FEMA’s flood map boundaries were inundated during Superstorm Sandy.

"It's ultimately, if you are cynical, protecting banks and their mortgages rather than the population," Klaus Jacob, a climate disaster expert at Columbia University and a member of the New York City Panel on Climate Change, told the Voice last month.

According to FEMA’s release, the new maps “will be based on the best-available science, as guided by the New York City Panel on Climate Change, and will result in a new set of flood maps for planning and building purposes that better accounts for the future risk of sea level rise and coastal storm surge.” [Emphasis theirs.]

Until the new maps are created, coastal-dwelling New Yorkers who rely on them for their flood insurance premiums (which have been rising, along with the amount of the National Flood Insurance Program’s debt) will continue to use the old maps, though the release promises to save them “tens of millions of dollars per year, in aggregate.”

Perhaps a more interesting and urgent question might be: Should New Yorkers be living in those areas at all?


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