FEMA Moves Out on New Insurance Ratings

On April 1, 2021, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) released an official announcement (Release Number HQ-21-079) and Memorandum for Write Your Own (WYO) Principal Coordinators and the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) Direct Serving Agent (W-21003) outlining plans for implementing its new NFIP rating system known as Risk Rating 2.0 described by FEMA as “Equity in Action.”  The press release, memo to NFIP insurers, and a graphic depicting the national impacts of the new premium system are available on the Risk Rating page on FEMA’s website. Continue Reading

Small Maui Dam Breaches, Leading to Evacuations

A bridge off Peahi Road above the Kaupakalua Reservoir and Dam (Kehaulani Cerizo/The Maui News Via AP)

The State of Hawaii has not shown up on this blog before, but last week’s dam breach and evacuations have earned it a coveted spot.

On March 8, the Kaupakalua Dam in Maui overtopped, prompting evacuation orders downstream. The 138-year-old earthen dam overtopped during heavy rains and is scheduled to be removed this summer.

According to the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources, the dam’s owner was sent a notice of deficiency in early 2020 that set a schedule for addressing its deficiencies, and in October the owner submitted an application to remove it entirely. In February 2021, the Department issued a formal Notice of Violation for failing to install a real-time reservoir water level gauge with readings accessible on the internet. This is required by state statutes. Apparently, the previous gauge was stolen in 2018.

Because of the deficiencies in the dam, the Department has required that the reservoir, which holds up to 68 million gallons of water, remain empty. This was apparently not possible during storm events like the one experienced last week.

According to the Department, 126 of Hawaii’s 130 state-regulated dams are classified as high or significant hazard potential due to their proximity to people and structures downstream. Most have Emergency Action Plans on file with the Department, and last week’s public alerts and evacuations were in line with that plan for this particular dam.

It appears that emergency planning helped to reduce the risk of the Kaupakalua Dam’s overtopping; such planning is a critical piece of reducing the risks associated with aging infrastructure, and California’s Central Valley is not a stranger to emergency planning in the context of flood safety. The Central Valley has embarked on a $1B plus effort to rehabilitate levees over the past couple of decades, coupled with substantial emergency planning efforts that we saw play out in 2017 with the Oroville Dam and spillway.

Listen Up, It’s Your Turn to Speak

I’m a fan of Steven Wright’s sardonic humor and deadpan delivery (“I bought some powdered water… but I don’t know what to add to it.”).  Apparently, the US Army Corps of Engineers is also a fan of Wright-esque word play based on a recently announced series of WRDA implementation guidance listening sessions where they are asking non-federal sponsors to —wait for it— speak up!

All joking aside, starting on March 16th, the Corps will be hosting five listening sessions to hear from stakeholders about their policy priorities in the Water Resource Development Act of 2020.  My hat’s off to Congress for maintaining bi-annual consideration of WRDA for the eighth consecutive year.  Now it’s up to the non-federal sponsor community to ensure that the intent of Congress, or the priorities for your water resource objectives, are reflected in the actual implementation guidance.  And that’s no small task. Continue Reading

Time to BUILD

With a single tweet, President Trump ended months of speculation as to whether or not Congress would provide another round of COVID relief before the election.  As he announced on Twitter, the President has his sights on passing a post-election “major Stimulus Bill.”  While the outcome of the election is unforeseeable, the need for major stimulus for the water infrastructure community is something every voter can get behind.

The loyal readers of my blog posts (hi mom!) know that I’m endlessly fascinated with infrastructure.   I’ve yet to come across a port, a dam, or even a sewer system that I haven’t wanted to know more about.  How did it get built?  Did Congress play a role?  Was it completed on time (ha!)?  Or on budget (hahahahahaha!)?   Did anyone lose their job (or reputation) in the process?  Years ago when my husband and I started taking summer road trips we’d happen upon a beautiful old bridge and he’d ask me if I wanted to stop.  My answer was always an enthusiastic, “YES!”  These days, my husband doesn’t bother to ask. He just pulls over to let me indulge my inner infrastructure geek (or he speeds up hoping I won’t notice the structure). Continue Reading

Building the Case for Infrastructure

Magic Eight Ball and Gone FishingDuring this pandemic, my crystal ball and I are social distancing; while I am working at home it is tucked away in my Capitol Hill office. Luckily, I was able to dig out my old magic-8 ball from the back of my closet, but each time I turn it over the message reads “Gone Fishing.” At first I thought it a fluke, but now I realize it might be trying to tell me something.

That is because the outlook for a federal infrastructure stimulus package is so murky even Nostradamus would not try to predict when Congress might act. In fact, we are all at risk of whiplash, given that it is “infrastructure week” yet again. Take for example this recent rapid exchange on infrastructure: Continue Reading

Infrastructure Infodemic

As media reports of the coronavirus started to become front-page news, my interest was peaked by articles that described the situation as an “infodemic”. Now several weeks and three-federal relief packages later, I think it is safe to say that many non-federal infrastructure interests are surfing from an infodemic on what Congress did and (more to the point) did not do with over $2 trillion dollars in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). In the last week, I’ve fielded more questions than I can count regarding federal stimulus opportunities. And with each response, I’ve done my “glass half full” best to throw tepid, not cold water on the situation. Continue Reading

Think Inside the Box(es)

Imagine how early you could retire if you had a dollar for every time someone told you to “think outside the box.”  Personally, I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard this charge in my educational and professional life. But what if I told you that the real money can be found by thinking within the box?  To be more specific, four little boxes…

When it comes to funding decisions for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) projects, you’re best served by channeling your twitter talents into answering the following four excel spreadsheet boxes:

  1. Project Description;
  2. Budget Item Justification (what’s the value of doing the work?);
  3. Consequences (what are the risks of not doing the work?);
  4. Remarks (anything that doesn’t fit squarely into the other fields).

Continue Reading

Waiving USACE Policy Requirements: A Tool to Get Urgent Projects Completed

Most of our past Blog posts have been focused on current events, analysis of new trends, and breaking news.  Today, we are sharing some news that is eight months old but that offers a potential and promising path for getting things done.  Some of you may already know of a not-very publicized policy memo distributed by James Dalton, USACE’s Director of Civil Works.  This policy memo takes a creative approach in giving direction to MSCs (“major subordinate commands,” or “divisions” in plain English) and districts.  That approach is: If you can’t get done what you need to get done, and the reason is a policy that we at USACE have adopted, then we will allow you to waive the policy so long as you have a good reason. This, is a good idea!

Continue Reading

How Flood Insurance and Endangered Species Are Connected

Most people would not associate flood insurance with the protection of endangered species. But over the past decade, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been the target of multiple lawsuits alleging that the agency has violated the Endangered Species Act by not considering the impacts of its flood insurance program on endangered species and their habitat.

[This topic will be discussed at the Floodplain Management Association conference in San Diego from September 3-6, 2019. Here is a link to the conference registration.]

In the latest round of litigation, a federal court in California has struck down as arbitrary and capricious an analysis by FEMA that its administration of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) was not likely to adversely affect endangered or threatened species or habitat. Continue Reading

Must See TV – D.C. Style

As a registered federal lobbyist I’m often asked to describe my job.  Some days I describe it as an advocate; other days as an educator.  I’ve also been known to liken it to being a translator or cruise director, but this past month it has felt a lot like being a host of Talk Soup.  You see, I attend countless Congressional hearings and markups and spend endless hours watching House and Senate floor debate on C-SPAN.  To borrow a phrase from Greg Kinnear, I watch it so you don’t have to.  In that spirit, and because I am long over due on providing a blog post to TheLeveeWasDry.Com, here are the highlights from the House debate on the Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) Energy & Water Appropriations bill.  

In mid-June, the U.S. House of Representatives cleared the first Minibus appropriations package, HR 2740.  The four-bill package included the FY20 Energy & Water Appropriations bill which funds the civil works program for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps).  The House Appropriations Committee, under a new democratic majority, continues the longstanding bi-partisan support for the Corps and its mission by proposing a record level of funding for the Corps.  In total the House proposes to fund the Corps at $7.36B, which is an increase of $357M over the FY19 enacted level and an increase of $2.53B over the President’s FY20 budget proposal.  Continue Reading