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Isleton working to launch community-based flood insurance pilot program

Isleton working to launch community-based flood insurance pilot program
Isleton working to launch community-based flood insurance pilot program 02:21

ISLETON — With several feet of snow forecast to fall in the Sierra Nevada, some Northern California towns in the capital region wonder what will happen when it all melts in the spring — and what that might mean for those with flood insurance.

Isleton Mayor Pam Bulahan is no stranger to insurance premiums, and so when researchers from UC Davis approached her city about a pilot program, she — on the city council at the time — was interested.

The plan is community flood insurance.

Kathleen Schaefer is the lead researcher at UC Davis.

"In California, the research shows that our flood losses are tied to the intensity of our atmospheric rivers," she said.

So what is community-based insurance? Essentially, each resident buys into a single policy owned by the city. The goal is to make insurance coverage more equitable across all communities.

"Community-based insurance programs can say 'We're going to manage these lower 1, 2, and 3 category atmospheric river storms so there's no flooding,' and then that reduces the overall risk," Schaefer said.

Isleton is a case study.

"The selling point for me was that I'm paying $6,000 a year for that and they don't want payments. I'm paying it all at once," Bulahan said.

However, there are issues.

"Everybody pitches in more or less, but the thing is what's kind of problematic is that a lot of Isleton is renters," Bulahan said.

This means policies may not apply to everyone, just every property.

"We can only assess a fee to property owners and that fee can only go to the property owner," Schaefer said.

The hope is that it will be a model for communities all over the state.

"It's been a multiyear effort of trying to bring the chicken and the egg together, and that's what's made the Isleton pilot project so valuable, is that it's catalyzed and brought all these things together," Schaefer said.

UC Davis researchers point to one large community in particular with this type of flood insurance that can be a model for an area the size of Sacramento: New York City. 

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