Converging federal regulations impact floodplains and critical habitat

Posted in: Environmental, Infrastructure, Water


esa-fema-flood-plains-300x200pxWhen infrastructure intersects with waterways and floodplains, project drivers and priorities may seem to conflict with each other. However, mutually beneficial solutions can be achieved with a little extra effort. A recent mandate brings to light this conflict, offering solutions and lessons learned from similar mandates.

The National Flood Insurance Program, administered by Federal Emergency Management Agency, is intended to reduce flooding impacts on infrastructure. The program provides affordable insurance to property owners while encouraging communities to administer floodplain management regulations. In early 2016 another federal entity, the National Marine Fisheries Service concluded that implementation of this flood program is likely to jeopardize the existence of 16 species protected by the Endangered Species Act in Oregon due to impacts to critical habitat.

The Fisheries Service outlined a reasonable and prudent alternative (RPA) consisting of six elements. This primarily impacts communities in northern and western portions of Oregon State. Although many of these communities already require mitigation associated with floodplain development, the specified RPA is taking some effort to work through.

Washington State received a similar mandate in early-2000s. This offers an opportunity to learn from others who have already navigated through the process. Yet local jurisdictions in Oregon are still expecting a substantial effort to comply with the upcoming changes to the National Flood Insurance Program.

No one argues that implementing good floodplain management which reduces potential flood damages will likely also protect critical habitat. It is just navigating the process to get there.

I’m looking forward to connecting with fellow waterway and floodplain professionals at the River Restoration Northwest, Annual Stream Restoration Symposium from February 6-10 in Skamania, Washington, to talk on this and other topics.


Kari Nichols, PE

About the Author

If a raindrop falls on the project, Kari Nichols gets involved to find a storm water management solution. “I believe in dedication and follow-through,” she says. “Deciphering regulatory language and developing workable design solutions helps me connect with clients and colleagues.” Kari has a taste for adventure and a passion for sustainability, which she satisfies by exploring natural and urban environments.

Read more posts by Kari Nichols, PE

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