By Julia Robins, Staff Writer
If your community is working to reduce flood risk, you could be eligible to save money and not even know it.
Tom Wittig is investigating ways for local communities to gain credit through the Community Rating System (CRS), an incentive program that awards credit to communities for voluntarily reducing flood risk. Particularly, he hopes to explain how communities can earn credit from sea level rise adaptation efforts. The payoff can be huge, reducing community members’ flood insurance rates up to 45%. The challenge is how do communities figure out what they need to do to get these benefits.
“In places where there’s a CRS coordinator who does six different things and doesn’t have the time to comb through the manual to learn these things, I can let them know that they can earn credit from what they’re already doing,” says Wittig, a Virginia Sea Grant-affiliated intern at the College of William and Mary Law School’s Virginia Coastal Policy Clinic.
Wittig looked at the ways in which Ocean City, MD, and Fort Lauderdale, FL, go about protecting their communities from flood risk and whether these approaches earn these communities CRS credit. Local property owners of Ocean City, a Class 7 community, receive a 15% reduction in flood insurance premiums. Fort Lauderdale, a Class 6 community with a 20% discount, has received almost a million dollars in savings. As communities within special flood hazard areas gain credit, they can move from a Class 9 with a 5% discount, to as high as a Class 1 with a 45% discount.
Determining which credits are easiest to earn depends on the community. While rural areas often employ open space easements because of the low pressure to develop, large communities and cities may lean toward regulatory standards because they protect property owners from increases in their flood insurance policies.
Wittig expects that promoting open space by limiting development in flood prone areas could be particularly beneficial to Virginia’s rural communities. FEMA reports that communities protecting open space under the CRS save on property damage caused by floods—an average of $200,000 per year.
Although the program began more than 20 years ago, it’s more important than ever to get flood insurance discounts through CRS. Congress is moving to reduce and ultimately remove subsidies for flood insurance premiums. As a result, not only will CRS encourage communities to improve floodplain management and safety, it will also give individual residents the insurance discounts they need. One of the most recent advancements is that FEMA has added several seal level rise-related activities to the list of creditable policies.
Exactly which activities will help communities gain CRS credit is uncertain, but “part of the new CRS program is that it’s open to innovation and creativity, so it encourages communities to feel free to submit ideas,” says Wittig.
In addition to finding viable programs through which Virginia communities can earn CRS credit, one of Wittig’s main goals is to make his findings readily available to the community.
“Hopefully I can educate and get communities interested in coastal change and sea level rise and give a better sense of the CRS to Virginia communities,” says Wittig.
When asked if he thinks he will face any challenges in relaying this information to Virginia communities, Wittig replies with a confident no.
“Most people are pretty receptive about CRS when it’s clear that we’re not critiquing these communities, but just trying to make their lives easier as far as management goes,” says Wittig. “I talked to people working for the city of Fort Lauderdale and they were really excited and receptive about this research.”
He cites Fort Lauderdale’s outreach program, which advertises flood insurance services to the community and explains to residents why it’s important to seriously consider sea level rise and flooding. Wittig hopes to bring such an effective outreach campaign to coastal Virginia.
The CRS is a subprogram of the National Flood Insurance Program, a voluntary program administered by FEMA, in which participating communities agree to adopt ordinances that work to reduce the risk of flooding.