Thursday, April 13, 2006

Protect My Ass

The standard used to make the Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs), which are used to determine how much we pay in flood insurance, is the Base Flood Elevation (BFE). The BFE is the level “that indicates the water surface elevation resulting from a flood that has a one percent chance of equaling or exceeding that level in any given year,” a one percent chance of flooding which translates into flooding at that level once every one hundred years, or the 100-year flood level.

That doesn’t mean flooding at the BFE will happen only once every 100 years, just that there is a one percent chance in any given year. Probability is funny like that. It says one percent, but the way it affects you and me is actually zero or 100 percent. It either happens or it doesn’t.

The Advisory Base Flood Elevations (ABFEs) that FEMA released yesterday are not the “flood maps” we have been waiting for. They are preliminary guidelines to help people who are rebuilding:

The flood recovery guidance documents provide Advisory Base Flood Elevations which are an interim product to assist communities in their rebuilding efforts while new ('preliminary') Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) are being completed and provided to the communities for comment by the end of this year.
And presentation for comment is only the start of the process (pdf, pg 3):
By the end of this year, FEMA anticipates issuing preliminary FIRMs for many of the coastal Louisiana parishes. However, these maps will not become effective until they have been through a formal appeals and adoption process.
The entire process could take a couple of years before the maps are the official “flood maps.”

But the ABFEs are promising. They show that FEMA thinks 100-year protection for the New Orleans area will ultimately come for those inside the levee system. And for people rebuilding, the ABFEs might as well be the FIRMs because communities must adopt them to get other benefits:
The Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA) has stated that in order for residents to be eligible for its State Homeowner Assistance plan, all reconstruction work must meet or exceed the latest available FEMA advisory base flood elevations and meet the legal requirements of the State Uniform Construction Code. FEMA has previously stated that these advisories must be used for any rebuilding projects using certain FEMA grant dollars thus the advisories apply to both public infrastructure projects as well as mitigation grants.
Also, the ABFEs are expected to closely resemble if not equal the levels that will eventually be in the final flood maps for those inside the levees, so homeowners who rebuild now should be just as safe as those who rebuild later.

However, these ABFEs depend on one thing:
The flood advisories are linked to the certification of the area’s levees. Recently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stated that the levees were not certifiable, meaning that they do not meet the standard for a 100-year flood, which represents a 1 percent chance of flooding in any given year, based on updated analysis of new storm data. The 100-year flood standard is a requirement of FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
The USACE says certification won’t happen until 2010.

And that certification won’t happen without funding:
...the Administration plans to begin working with Congress immediately to address additional funding beyond what the Administration has already requested, estimated at $2.5 billion, for work in all of the New Orleans area except for lower Plaquemines.

***

Those improvements will provide 100-year protection to about 98 percent of the population in the New Orleans area.
The 2% left out is lower Plaquemines. Another $1.6 billion would have to go the USACE’s way for them to be able to certify lower Plaquemines’ levees four years from now. That $1.6 billion plus the extra $2.5 billion makes up the new $4.1 billion number that the USACE says it would need to give all of southeastern Louisiana 100-year flood protection, down from last month’s $6 billion dollar number.

When the USACE gave us that $6 billion number last month, our jaws dropped. Our Senators and Representatives shouted angrily. Governor Blanco called it a “monumental miscalculation.”

But it wasn’t a miscalculation. The USACE only does what it is authorized and funded to do. The initial mission of the USACE and what it was authorized and funded to do was only to restore the damaged parts of the levee system to pre-Katrina design by June 1, 2006, and make improvements by September 2007 – scheduled improvements that didn't give the entire area 100-year food protection.

Now, they have the mission but need the funding. Who can fund the USACE to provide 100-year protection southeastern Louisiana? Congress. And the President can petition Congress to do so.

I ain’t too proud to beg, but it shouldn’t have to come to that.

Protect my ass.

Specifically, protect my ass from the 100-year flood so I can afford flood insurance or flood mitigation on my home if needed.

In Orleans Parish (pdf):
Although USACE improvements to the flood control system will make Orleans Parish safer than it was before the storms, they will not eliminate the potential for flooding. In fact, based on analyses recently completed by the USACE, the flood control system will not meet the standards necessary for providing protection against the 1-percent-annual-chance (100-year) flood, which is also referred to as the base flood.
In Jefferson Parish (pdf):
Although USACE improvements to the flood control system will make Jefferson Parish safer than it was before the storms, they will not eliminate the potential for flooding. In fact, based on analyses recently completed by the USACE, the flood control system will not meet the standards necessary for providing protection against the 1-percent-annual-chance (100-year) flood, which is also referred to as the base flood.
In St. Bernard Parish (pdf):
Although USACE improvements to the flood control system will make St. Bernard Parish safer than it was before the storms, they will not eliminate the potential for flooding. In fact, based on analyses recently completed by the USACE, the flood control system will not meet the standards necessary for providing protection against the 1-percent-annual-chance (100-year) flood, which is also referred to as the base flood.
And in Plaquemines Parish (pdf):
Although USACE improvements to the flood control system will make Plaquemines Parish safer than it was before the storms, they will not eliminate the potential for flooding. In fact, based on analyses recently completed by the USACE, the flood control system will not meet the standards necessary for providing protection against the 1-percent-annual-chance (100-year) flood, which is also referred to as the base flood.
These analyses were released along with the ABFEs. Evidently, my ass is not being protected.

My new rally cry: “Protect da po’ boy’s ass in every parish! $4.1 billion more for 100-year levees!”

Wait a minute, my ass isn’t that big. But I am that big of an ass sometimes, so it is a fitting rally cry.

An alternative: “Big ass protection for southeastern Louisiana! $4.1 billion more for 100-year levees!” I think I am off topic now.

5 comments:

ballgame said...

So is anyone incorporating into their '100 year' calculations the likelihood that the ocean levels will be 3 to 15 meters higher at the end of that span than they are now?

OK. Stupid question.

Better question: how many meters can the ocean rise before it renders all the levees, shall we say, moot?

da po' boy said...

Please provide link citing “likelihood that the ocean levels will be 3 to 15 meters higher” in 100 years. Thank you.

ballgame said...

You are right to be skeptical.

One article from Common Dreams says a complete melting of Greenland's ice alone would cause a 23 foot (7 meter) rise in sea levels and cites computer models postulating a time frame of 1,000 years. Of course, this is just Greenland's ice.

A second article from that site states that Greenland's ice has been thawing at an accelerating rate, and that its slide into the oceans could be "explosively rapid". That article also points out that the last time the planet was three degrees warmer than now, sea levels were 20+ meters higher. IIRC, some articles speculate that the planet could warm by several degrees this century.

Some articles I've read point out that global warming may accelerate dynamically due to the thawing of the Siberian permafrost and the subsequent release of an enormouse quantity of methane into the atmosphere. Some scientists have pointed out that the planet may be being kept artificially cooler by several degrees than it would be otherwise by the presence of industrial particulate matter blocking sunlight. This particulate matter would drop out of the atmosphere quite suddenly when industrial operations cease, but the greenhouse gases produced by those operations would remain in the atmosphere for years. The combination of these two effects could mean the planet could become warmer than it's been in hundreds of thousands of years. (Sorry I can't dig up those links right at the moment.)

All in all, I might have been indulging in a little hyperbole regarding the 100 year time frame for a 15 meter ocean rise, but a rise is certain and a 3+ meter increase in ocean levels is well within the realm of possibility.

Do you have any ideas about what the answer is to my second question? With the likely increase in the size and strength of hurricanes associated with global warming, I'm going to guess that even a 1 meter ocean rise would severely tax the levees protective capacity ... but maybe you know of engineers who know otherwise?

da po' boy said...

“How many meters can the ocean rise before it renders all the levees, shall we say, moot?”

I am not a scientist or engineer, and I don’t play one on my blog. But, sea level rise and land subsidence must be addressed in all of coastal Louisiana.

I go to realclimate.org to get most of my meteorological answers. Be sure to read the comments. This post deals with sea level change, but nothing on New Orleans or the stress on the levee system. It seems to conclude that sea level will rise .3m to 1m in the next century.

The levees don’t exist by themselves. They are protected by miles of coastal wetlands, and efforts are underway to stop coastal erosion and restore what has been lost.

As long as there is land between the levees and the ocean, and that land is a healthy wetland ecosystem, the effect of sea level rise and subsidence on rendering the levees moot is moot.

So, I guess the question I would have to answer is: How many meters can the ocean rise before the wetlands disappear? I have no answer for that, but every coastal community must face that problem, not just New Orleans.

da po' boy said...

Above link for sea level post was wrong. This should be the right one:
http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/03/catastrophic-sea-level-rise-more-evidence-from-the-ice-sheets/