Damages as a result of flooding happen unnecessarily every year in the U.S. and in the U.K., much to the shock of many home and business owners who suffer losses in floodplain areas. It is vital to raise public awareness for citizens who are at risk for flood losses and must understand how much risk they face and how to mitigate the hazard, according to speakers at the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS) and University of Leeds workshop in Champaign on April 17.
“Water in a Changing World: A Comparison of Midwest and European Approaches” brought scientists from The University of Leeds in the U.K. to discuss the high costs of flooding and other issues related to water resources.
In the U.S., flood damages increased six-fold from the early 1990s to 2007, said Sally McConkey, manager of the ISWS Floodplain Mapping Program. Flood damage averages over $6 billion annually, even when Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma (2005) are not included.
“Flooding is the most predictable natural disaster; thus we can and should manage the risks involved by reducing the consequences,” McConkey said.
In the U.K., the worst flooding was in 2007 when a dam almost burst, causing $5 billion in damages and major health and safety issues, said Rebecca Slack, scientist at the University of Leeds. Currently, 12 percent of the U.K. population, or 2.4 million homes are in the floodplains or coastal areas, 50 percent in The Netherlands, and 25 percent in Hungary.
In the U.S. roughly 10 percent of the population lives in the floodplains or along coasts where there is a 1 percent chance of inundation every year.
Efforts to control and ease the effects of flooding originate at the national, state, and local levels. Yet for homeowners, awareness of their personal risk of experiencing flood damage to home and property is crucial.
Since 2004, ISWS has been involved in converting Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Flood Insurance Rate Maps to a digital format and updating flood studies to reflect changes in the environment and in housing development.
Homeowners in communities that participate in the National Flood Insurance Program have access to flood insurance to protect their property investment. However, there is a great deal of resistance to the purchase of flood insurance.
“There is a lot of denial about their actual risk for flood damage,” McConkey said. “Major flooding doesn’t happen often enough to be a part of their societal memory. People are typically more concerned about the cost of flood insurance than the consequences of flooding, which can be loss of life, property, and personal belongings.”
The structure of housing developments in high flood risk areas should be adapted for flood risk, McConkey said. In addition, homeowners can lower their risk of costly damage by keeping valuable belongings on upper floors. The most important action, though, may be to identify where homes are located in the floodplain. Many county maps are available at www.illinoisfloodmaps.org.
McConkey’s advice: “Be aware if your home is in the floodplain and buy insurance—even if you’re outside but close to the floodplain boundaries.”
The Illinois State Water Survey at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a division of the Prairie Research Institute, is the primary agency in Illinois concerned with water and atmospheric resources.