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American Rivers' Congress Call

WASHINGTON, Today, American Rivers called on Congress to reform federal policy on natural disasters to reduce the devastating effects of floods losses on people and property and the escalating costs of disaster assistance for the federal taxpayer.

Over the past 25 to 30 years, losses from natural hazards have increased dramatically, in spite of federal efforts to reduce damages associated with natural disasters. Since 1989, FEMA's disaster costs have topped $22 billion, a 550 percent over the previous ten years.

Despite spending more than $30 billion on federal levees and dams, flood losses have more than tripled since 1951 to $5.1 billion (adjusted for inflation).

"We need to consider new ways to protect people and property," stated Scott Faber, director of Floodplain Programs at American Rivers, who testified today on H.R. 2446 before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.

"Wider use of voluntary relocation and land acquisition efforts, tough restrictions on new floodplain development, and watershed-wide flood control strategies will reduce future flood losses without sticking federal taxpayers with the bill."

In his testimony, Faber called on Congress to adopt the following changes to improve the effectiveness of H.R. 2446, "The Disaster Streamlining and Costs Reduction Act of 1997:"

·Increase the portion of disaster relief set aside for voluntary relocation from 15 to 25 percent, and permit FEMA to increase the federal cost-share to 90 percent when low income communities are affected or when communities have developed mitigation plans before disaster strikes;

·Increase pre-disaster mitigation efforts by giving FEMA and other federal agencies the tools and incentives they need to relocate vulnerable structures before floodwaters arrive;

·Create a $100 million Pre-Disaster Mitigation Fund which could be used to help communities develop pre-disaster mitigation plans and to relocate vulnerable homes and businesses before disaster strikes; and;

·Direct FEMA and the Corps of Engineers to cooperatively develop a national mitigation strategy which targets repetitive loss communities.

·Voluntary relocation has gained wider acceptance since the Great Flood of 1993, when more than 10,000 homes and businesses were voluntarily relocated by new federal programs. A White House task force created after the Great Flood called for less reliance on structural flood control solutions such as levees and dams, which often encourage floodplain development, and wider use of non-structural alternatives like voluntary relocation and land acquisition.

"By relocating vulnerable homes and businesses out of harm's way, we can restore the natural function that floodplains serve and significantly reduce flood losses" Faber said. "Floodplains act as buffers between land and water, filtering out pollutants, stabilizing streambanks and providing habitat for river wildlife. Voluntary acquisition and relocation programs not only aid river wildlife but also give our rivers more room to spread out, reducing flood heights, and provide new opportunities for riverside recreation."

American Rivers is the nation's leading river conservation group. For more information, contact American Rivers at 202-547-6900 or access the web site at www.amrivers.org.

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