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Floodplain Management: State and Local Programs

Posted by Content Coordinator on Friday, November 9th, 2012



The extent to which flood‐prone areas are occupied by human activity is directly proportional to the amount of damage that can occur when flooding takes place. Flooding is a universal happening and every state and territory in the United States has been impacted by this natural, reoccurring event. Consequently the federal government, state governments, and local governments have a long history of undertaking activities that are designed to reduce the impacts of flooding.

It is important to note here, however, that floodplain management is not just about reducing flood losses. It is also about the prudent management of floodplain resources which are interwoven to make it one of the earth’s most valuable ecosystems. Therefore, floodplain management is both about reducing the impacts due to floods as well as about managing floodplain resources.

Natural floodplains, whether along the coasts or in riverine or lake areas, improve quality of life by virtue of their role in maintaining overall environmental health. These areas are complex ecosystems that are in turn a part of larger systems. They filter air and water; provide habitat for wildlife; store flood waters; recharge aquifers; and buffer noise, wind, waves and storms. States that preserve these functions are improving their quality of life. Consequently, floodplain management is about reducing losses due to flooding as well as preserving and restoring natural floodplain functions. In short, it is about the management of the floodplains.

A Brief Overview of Floodplain Management

The concept of floodplain management has a broad and varied history, and no simple definition is capable of capturing all of its components. A number of historic documents have characterized the subject, including House Document 465 – A Unified National Program For Managing Flood Losses, issued in 1966 by the U.S. Task Force on Federal Flood Control Policy. In 1976, the United States Water Resources Council issued A Unified National Program for Floodplain Management (updated in 1986 and 1994). This report set forth a conceptual framework and recommendations for actions at all levels of government to reduce flood losses through floodplain management.

Floodplain management can be regarded as a continuous decision‐making process that aims to achieve the wise use of the nation’s floodplains. The process typically includes the issuance of permits for development as well as more comprehensive tools, such as land use planning and growth management, protection of the floodplain’s natural functions, and traditional structural flood control works.

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) regulations written in 1976 focused on defining floodplain management as “the operation of a community program of corrective and preventive measures for reducing flood damage. These measures take a variety of forms and generally include requirements for zoning, subdivision or building, and special purpose floodplain ordinances” (from, accessed March 25, 2011). Historically, the NFIP has focused on identification of flood hazard areas, regulations to recognize those flood hazards in the developmental process, and administration of flood insurance.

Beginning in the mid‐1970s, each governor designated a “state coordinating agency” for the NFIP, with coordinating duties and responsibilities under that program. Since then, the scope and variety of state floodplain management authorities, responsibilities, and initiatives have multiplied. These efforts were made possible in part by those involved in the founding of the Association of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM) and its State Chapters.

Principles for Effective State Floodplain Management

It has become clear over the years that there is no one “perfect” model for a state floodplain management program. Every state has its own unique combination of factors that shape its approach to managing flood risks and floodplain resources. These components of a floodplain, which vary significantly by geographical region, can vary by each individual floodplain as well. In conjunction with this difference in geographical regions, the constitutionally established relationships between states and local jurisdictions also differ considerably from state to state. Furthermore, the political cultures of each state and its local governments often are such that program components that work well in one state may not be acceptable in another.

Given these factors, in 2003 the ASFPM published the Ten Guiding Principles of Effective State Floodplain Management Programs (ASFPM 2003). This landmark undertaking was the first attempt by any organization to identify and record standards by which states could measure their efforts in the management of their floodplains. Taking into consideration the differences between states, local governments, and geographical regions, these principles are not meant to be the sole model that state and local programs should follow to accomplish effective floodplain management. Rather, they establish a set of standards whereby state programs can gauge their accomplishments in achieving their goal of effective floodplain management. It can be estimated that all effective state floodplain management programs contain at a minimum, components that are consistent with these 10 guiding principles listed below:

State floodplain management programs need strong, clear authority.
State floodplain management programs should be comprehensive and integrated with other state functions.
Flood hazards within the state must be identified and the flood risks assessed.
Natural floodplain functions and resources throughout the state need to be respected.
Development within the state must be guided away from flood‐prone areas; adverse impacts of development both inside and outside the floodplain must be minimized.
Flood mitigation and recovery strategies should be in place throughout the state.
The state’s people need to be informed about flood hazards and mitigation options.
Training and technical assistance in floodplain management need to be available to the state’s communities.
The levels of funding and staffing for floodplain management should meet the demand within each state.
Evaluation of the effectiveness of states’ floodplain management programs is essential and successes should be documented.

Read full report (PDF) here: Floodplain Management 2010

About The Association of State Floodplain Managers
“The Association of State Floodplain Managers began in 1977 as the supporting organization of professionals involved in floodplain management, flood hazard mitigation, flood preparedness, and flood warning and recovery. It is the mission of the Association to mitigate the losses, costs and human suffering caused by flooding and to promote wise use of the natural and beneficial functions of floodplains. Today the ASFPM is the premier voice in floodplain management practice and policy throughout the nation. Our 6,500 national and chapter members represent local, state and federal government agencies, citizen groups, private consulting firms, academia, the insurance industry, and lenders.”

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