As humanity has expanded across the globe, urban areas are experiencing a growing threat of flooding. In some communities, the need for flood control has become a top priority for city engineers and public works directors. Nevertheless, while addressing the issue of flooding is a must, the cost of implementing flood relief projects is a significant issue. Communities have to weigh the importance of fixing drainage problems against other infrastructure projects and departmental needs like police and fire safety.
Unfortunately, this often creates a cycle of flooding, repairs, and repeated flooding that causes significant financial losses to businesses, residents, and the community as a whole. In this blog post, we will examine why funding for flood relief projects is so challenging to justify, and the importance of grant funding in addressing the issue of flooding.
On this episode of UrbanHydro, host Shauna Urlacher explores how to break the cycle of flooding, repairs, and repeated flooding in communities. She discusses the challenges of prioritizing drainage projects against competing community needs and delves into the benefits of grant funding, such as FEMA's Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) grant, and how it can help smaller communities budget for a smaller local cost share. The speaker shares how even a $600,000 storm sewer project aimed at addressing flooding for three buildings can qualify for grant funding. This episode highlights the importance of securing grant funding to address flood relief projects, even in dry times when the need for flood relief is overlooked.
Difficulty Justifying Flood Relief Projects
Flooding is often seen as a problem that only rears its head during prolonged periods of intense rainfall. This view, however, is misleading. Floods are one of the most devastating natural disasters that every community must face, and the long-term effects of such disasters can be severe.
The Eisenhower Matrix and Flooding Mitigation Projects
Ever seen the Eisenhower Matrix? If you’ve ever taken a productivity training or efficiency seminar, you’ve probably seen a version of it.
The idea is a quadrant with important and unimportant as the row headers and urgent and non-urgent as the column headers. Then you sort tasks into the four boxes and it should help you decide how to prioritize tasks in your schedule.
Most of us end up doing urgent things first when we don’t plan, because, well, they’re urgent! And it’s the same with community budgets. We end up doing what’s urgent, even if it’s not the most important when we don’t plan well.
The problem is… during dry spells, it’s really hard to sell to elected officials that a flood relief project is the most important item to get a sizable chunk of this year’s budget.
Addressing Flood Relief Projects During Dry Seasons
Though addressing these long-term damages is an essential part of a growing community’s infrastructure needs, the cost of implementing flood relief projects is always challenging to justify. After a flood, the need for flood relief projects is immediate, and resources are readily available for channeling toward mitigation efforts. However, like a parent forgetting the pains of childbirth after time has passed, the need for flood relief diminishes over time, and it is much harder to budget funds for preventive measures when there have been no recent incidents of flooding.
Because of the diminished urgency, the root cause of the flooding is not addressed and it cements the cycle of flooding, repairs, and repeated flooding. After a flood, the implementation of flood control projects becomes a top priority for communities. As time passes, the perceived need fades and the implementation of flood control measures diminishes.
Importance of Grant Funding
Grant funding is an answer to this cycle of flooding, repairs, and repeated flooding in urban areas. When communities receive grant funds, they can budget for the minimal local cost share, and the ability to prioritize drainage projects is easier. When communities get the funding they need, this automatically reduces the cost burden on the municipality.
FEMA typically provides 75% of the project cost while the remaining local (non-federal) share is 25%. With such clear-cut financing policies, communities can budget for the local cost share while still investing in other much-needed services.
When applying for funding through grant programs, a community must identify the projects and prioritize them based on the needs of the entire drainage system. The national grant program for flood relief and future flood resilience, also known as the FEMA Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC), offers funding for flood relief projects. BRIC is a nationally competitive annual program and projects are selected based on FEMA’s criteria. To qualify for funding, the project must reduce the risk of structural flooding from a 100-year or smaller storm (inside or outside the regulatory floodplain).
Benefits of Applying for FEMA Funding
It’s important to note that even smaller flood relief projects should consider seeking potential grant opportunities. FEMA can provide funding to communities for projects of any size. Securing grant funding can ease the financial burden, making it easier for smaller communities to budget flood relief projects.
Shauna Urlacher, a flood mitigation grant writer and administrator, recently helped a community secure a grant for a $600,000 project, even though only a handful of buildings were affected by flooding. Using her years of experience writing FEMA grant applications, this project received the funding needed to move forward.
Applying for FEMA funding can be an intimidating and daunting process, but getting grants allows smaller communities to have adequate funding for their flood relief projects. There are even provisions that allow reimbursement for pre-award costs such as grant writing and engineering. Grant administration and in-kind services, such as staff time, are also eligible for reimbursement.
It is essential to note that FEMA grant applications require a benefit-cost ratio (BCR) greater than one and require an analysis of structures that are susceptible to frequent flooding that will be impacted by the proposed improvements. Because of the economic impact on business, including them in your calculations will result in higher benefits.
Flooding is an ever-present danger for suburban communities worldwide, with each storm forcing municipalities to spend considerable resources toward mitigation efforts. Nevertheless, the cycle of flooding, repairs, and repeat flooding poses a significant challenge for these localities. In such situations, grant funding presents a viable solution, effectively managing these funds while significantly reducing the financial burden on communities. With grant funding, preventive measures can be prioritized, specific needs established, and smaller communities have room to invest more in other much-needed services beyond flood relief. Whether large or small, FEMA funding offers everyone a chance to reduce the threat of flooding and protect the livability of their local areas.
Ready to elevate your community and secure grant funding now, while you're in a dry season and not "in the weeds" with a current flood?