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Our View: Local governments should vocalize about floodplain regulations

Monday, October 7, 2013

We've said it before, and we'll say it again — and we wish that more public figures would say it and say it louder: It makes no sense to treat agricultural interests located in floodplains the way you'd treat residential, commercial and/or industrial areas located in floodplains.

Yet, the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, if left unchecked, could have terrible effects on agriculture in our area. The measure would restrict the building of needed agriculture structures and dramatically increase the cost of flood insurance.

The essence of the legislation is understandable. After rebuilding and paying out billions to mitigate flood damage in low-lying areas that aren't suitably protected — doing so over and over — you've got to do something long term. The idea of Biggert-Waters was to reduce subsidies for flood insurance for those areas so there would be incentive to increase protection and/or move development to higher ground.

That meant re-classifying swaths of land here and there across the country. Good sense for those Gulf states, for instance, that are inundated every couple years and where whole cities are exposed; poor sense for an area given mostly to the raising of crops. Stop the building of a new office building or a new residential development in a flood plain without 100-year flood protection? Good idea. Stop the addition of a drying shed or a warehouse needed for farmers to do their work? Dumb idea.

This was discussed again recently by Sutter County officials, and Supervisor James Gallagher spoke to the issue: The Federal Emergency Management Agency needs to establish an agriculture zone as one of its floodplain designations.

Such a designation would allow less than 100-year flood protection and would keep insurance rates lower to allow construction of agriculture-related structures. It's a matter of practicality for the farm community (and communities such as ours that depend on agriculture).

Gallagher made a great point: "We're making the case that you want to make sure agriculture is viable in a floodplain — that's the best use for a floodplain."

We understand FEMA's move ... having massive areas of residential, industrial and commercial property destroyed because of flooding puts a tremendous burden on the federal government and taxpayers.

But a reasonable amount of risk is necessary. We feed the country and the world. Shutting us down is dumb.

It would be good sense for city-living rulemakers to find out the likely effects before drafting such one-size-fits-all regulations.

Sutter County is part of the Agricultural Floodplain Management Alliance and has commissioned a study through the Government Accountability Office to look at impacts of changing the flood insurance rates.

All area governments — committees, councils, boards — should take a stand on this issue. Farm interests should not assume Congress will do something about this problem anytime soon. The regulations are going into effect. We all need to start getting vocal.