By Brian Skinner, Esq.
In 2016, West Virginia experienced some of the most deadly and destructive flooding in the state’s history. Twenty-three people were killed, more than 1,500 homes and businesses were destroyed, and another 2,500 significantly damaged, while losses to highways and bridges totaled about $53 million. The National Weather Service declared that the amount of rainfall in June 2016, was of a magnitude expected once in 1,000 years.
Now over three years have elapsed and many of the worst-hit communities are still rebuilding and the state continues to work on not only responding the 2016 disaster, but preparing for the next one.
But West Virginia is not alone, devastating floods are on the rise. Since 2000, flood-related disasters have cost the United States more than $845 billion in damage to homes, businesses, and critical infrastructure, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In 2017, the West Virginia Legislature enacted legislation creating the Joint Legislative Committee on Flooding charged with studying flood damage reduction and flood plain management and making recommendations which offer solutions to reduce the reality and threat of future loss of life and property damages associated with flooding. Since its inception, the committee has focused mainly on the status of efforts to rebuild communities damaged by 2016 flooding and removing bureaucratic obstacles to authorizing contracts during a state of emergency. However, little has been done to developing effective mitigation policies.
New research from The Pew Charitable Trusts might offer some ideas worth considering. “Mitigation Matters” identifies 13 states or cities that have adopted policies resulting in effective flood mitigation and includes lessons from the jurisdictions organized into three categories: (1) using existing funds for mitigation by redirecting revenue and spending, (2) creating revenue sources, and (3) establishing smarter regulations.
Pew’s research highlights state and local policies and regulations that have been important catalysts for flood mitigation. As the report explains, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the threat posed by more frequent and severe flooding, but West Virginia might be able to take some lessons from these 13 policy briefs which provide a variety of models to help make West Virginia communities more resilient.
Brian is the former counsel to the West Virginia House of Delegates Judiciary Committee and counsel to the West Virginia Senate Minority Caucus. He was also general counsel to the West Virginia State Health Officer and Commissioner for the Bureau for Public Health. He has almost two-decades of experience as a strategic advisor and chief legal counsel to both executive and legislative branch public officials.