Idaho is a state blessed with tremendous lakes and rivers, but for our state’s residents living near our waterways, those waterways sometimes produce flooding and with it the possible loss of life and property.
In 2017 Idaho witnessed historic flooding, severely impacting many residents’ way of life. Flooding is in fact the costliest natural disaster our state faces, and since 2010 floods have caused seven federal disaster declarations.
Unlike wildfires and many other natural disasters, floods can often be predicted based on location and how frequently they occur. That allows us to prepare for them and to lower the risk that they will damage property or cost lives. As a former Ada County engineer and floodplain administrator and currently the Idaho representative for the Northwest Regional Floodplain Management Association, I am proud of the tireless work our state and local communities do to protect against and prepare for major flooding events.
While planners, emergency managers, firefighters and first responders all work to predict the next flood and prepare for it, homeowners and renters are often in the dark about what their flood risk actually is. That is dangerous because community preparedness for flooding depends on everyone being involved and informed.
However, in Idaho because of our laws, many folks are in fact buying homes or renting without ever being told that they are at risk for flooding. That lack of knowledge about flood risk puts people in danger and must be remedied.
In order to protect people, it is critical that anyone looking to purchase or lease a new home know its flood history and risk so they can make an informed decision about whether it’s the right move or take appropriate steps to mitigate the risk. States across the country have different requirements for flood disclosure, with varying degrees of information needed, time allotted to review and opportunities to remedy any dangers.
Key to addressing issues is a uniform standard of disclosure, either federal or enacted at the state level, that provides future residents comprehensive information on a property’s flood risk in a timely manner and is accessible and realistic for sellers. With the knowledge of flood risk and history from the outset, new owners could spread the costs of mitigation throughout the lifetime of their mortgage, reducing upfront and unexpected costs.
Strong flood risk and history disclosures are not only ethical to keep people out of harm’s way, they could also help reduce the $20 billion taxpayer burden to the National Flood Insurance Program through reducing flood claims and losses. Sadly, the House of Representatives missed a huge opportunity this month when it passed a National Flood Insurance Program bill without addressing flood disclosure, a key reform that would help our state and millions of folks nationwide.
We have to be prepared, which means no one should be moving into their new home without full knowledge of whether they are at risk for flooding or what they can do about it. We need Sen. Crapo and the Idaho congressional delegation to step up and lead on this important issue. Flood risk disclosure is a sensible start that will keep people safe as they move into their new home.
Angie Gilman Michaels is a former Ada County engineer/floodplain administrator and currently serves as the Idaho state rep for the Northwest Regional Floodplain Management Association.