Friday, February 22, 2019

PEMA: Over $101.5 Million In Flood Damage Not Covered By Feds In 2018; Intense Flooding Events Increasing In PA

On February 21, Randy Padfield, Acting Director of the PA Emergency Management Agency, told the Senate Appropriations Committee the Commonwealth had over $101.5 million in public infrastructure flood damages that were not covered by federal disaster assistance in 2018.
He added the frequency and intensity of precipitation events in the Northeast, including Pennsylvania, is increasing by as much as 75 percent causing more localized pockets of flood damage.
He made the comments in response to questions from Sen. Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia) who asked what the costs associated with increasingly frequency flooding were and would installation of green infrastructure upstream from these areas help mitigate those impacts.
Padfield said PEMA documented about $163.5 million in public infrastructure damages in Pennsylvania during 2018, but only just over $62 million was covered by federal disaster aid.  The remaining $101.5 million in damage had to be absorbed by municipalities, counties and state agencies.
He said one problem has been the thresholds used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to declare a federal disaster.  He also said FEMA is looking for states to cover more of the disaster related costs.
As an example, he said Pennsylvania had 5,206 homes damaged by flooding in 2018, but no single storm event reached the 800 homes threshold used by FEMA for individual assistance.
Padfield said flood mitigation-- getting people off a floodplain and other measures-- is critical to limiting future loses.
He pointed out for every $1 spent on flood mitigation $7 are saved in emergency response and recovery costs in the future.
He said as a result of last year’s flooding, Pennsylvania received about $10 million in mitigation funding from FEMA, however, his agency has identified about 70 mitigation projects that would cost over $30 million to complete.
He added there were a lot more mitigation projects out there to do.
Padfield also pointed to the landslides that occured in Western Pennsylvania as a result of multiple rainfall events as another issue with the federal response.  He explained federal disaster relief was denied because FEMA is geared to dealing with single events and the landslides were caused by a series of rain events over a period of time.
Padfield suggested Gov. Wolf’s Restore Pennsylvania proposal would be helpful in addressing mitigation and funding to help families and communities recover from and prevent flooding.
Restore PA would establish a Disaster Relief Trust Fund to help individuals who suffer losses not compensated by FEMA or other programs as well as pay for green infrastructure,  floodplain, stream and flood control projects to prevent flood damage in the future.
Sen. Street said it is critical to address these issues with green infrastructure much of which has disaster mitigation benefits and also has the benefit of creating jobs and improving the quality of life.
He added it is also important moving forward as we deal with the results of climate change on the Commonwealth and the impacts of increasing rainfall.
Click Here to watch a video of the hearing and for written testimony from the hearing.
Additional Background
As explained above, frequent and sustained smaller stream flooding this past summer across all of Pennsylvania not only caused significant property damage, but landslides in Western parts of the state, repeated property losses and sinkholes in the Northcentral and Eastern areas and a dramatic increase in the mosquito population carrying West Nile Virus.
A Penn State/Florida Gulf Coast University study done for the Center for Rural Pennsylvania in 2017 found very heavy precipitation events have increased 71 percent over the last 50 years and the frequency is likely to keep increasing.
The 2015 Draft Pennsylvania Climate Impacts Assessment Update done for DEP’s Climate Change Advisory Committee by Penn State’s Environment and Natural Resources Institute found “There are substantial and increasing flooding risks in Pennsylvania for both urban areas and infrastructure in rural areas. Adaptation strategies that focus on increasing flood preparedness, reducing vulnerabilities and increasing resilience in more extreme and more frequent flooding scenarios are of high priority.”
An update to the Pennsylvania Climate Impacts Assessment will be discussed by DEP’s Climate Change Advisory Committee on February 26.
The June 2018 update to Pennsylvania’s Federal Hazard Mitigation Plan submitted by the PA Emergency Management Agency to FEMA for the first time include a more “robust” evaluation of how climate change would affect the risk of flooding and other natural disasters in the state.
The Plan concluded, in part-- “Across the United States, natural and human-made disasters have led to increasing levels of deaths, injuries, property damage, and interruption of business and government services. This trend is projected to increase due to the impacts of climate change, therefore adding data, analysis, and action related to climate change was an important component of this plan update.”
The 4th National Climate Assessment issued in November of last year specifically pointed to an increase in extreme, recurring precipitation events in its assessment of impacts on the Northeast, including Pennsylvania.
The report said, “The recent dominant trend in precipitation throughout the Northeast has been towards increases in rainfall intensity, with increases in intensity exceeding those in other regions of the contiguous United States. Urban areas are at risk for large numbers of evacuated and displaced populations and damaged infrastructure due to both extreme precipitation events and recurrent flooding, potentially requiring significant emergency response efforts and consideration of a long-term commitment to rebuilding and adaptation, and/or support for relocation where needed.”
It continued, “Much of the infrastructure in the Northeast, including drainage and sewer systems, flood and storm protection assets, transportation systems, and power supply, is nearing the end of its planned life expectancy. Climate-related disruptions will only exacerbate existing issues with aging infrastructure.”
For more information, visit PEMA’s Hazard Mitigation webpage and DEP’s Climate Change webpage.
(Photo: Small stream flood damage to a road in York County last summer.)
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