Just two weeks before Hurricane Harvey made its devastating landfall in Rockport, TX and meandered its way up the Gulf Coast to dump 40+ inches of rain on Houston and its surrounding counties, President Trump repealed flood protections meant to prevent further devastation in future flooding events.
Hurricane Harvey may have downgraded to a tropical storm in the time it took for it to reach Southeast Texas, but in just three days it proved to be the worst catastrophic flooding event in Houston and surrounding areas since Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, surpassing Allison’s highest recorded rainfall by over ten inches in some areas.
Executive Order 13690, or changes to the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard, was signed by then-President Barack Obama in January 2015 to mitigate the damage that the growing number of floods across the nation would incur by restricting how close developers could build near the edges of flood plains.
This order made changes to the U.S. National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) that provides federally underwritten flood insurance to people living in areas that agree to control development on or around flood plains, which were designed to make future major flooding events like Harvey more manageable.
The order would have changed the way that developers build around flood plains and prevented them from using imperfect flood maps to consider lines at the edges of flood plains as definite and instead as a place of caution, expanding the areas near flood plains where building should not occur.
With these restrictions lifted, states that still want to receive money from the NFIP will be able to allow developers to build close to flood plain borders regardless of future flood risk without risking the aid that is provided to them under the NFIP.
The executive order was originally opposed by eight U.S. senators, including Texas’ own John Cornyn (R-TX), whose states benefit most from the current NFIP because they get more money per dollar that each resident spends on the NFIP and recovery efforts after major flood events.
The decision to erase the Obama-era flood protection rule came on the heels of two 500-year flood events in Texas in the past five years, including the Tax Day Floods of 2016, that had devastating consequences to the state of Texas and two weeks before Harvey made landfall, but the effects of the rollback of these precautions will not be felt for years to come.