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Congressman Jerry McNerney

Representing the 9th District of California

Rep. McNerney Pushes Legislation to Improve Local Emergency Flood Response

Nov 18, 2015
Press Release
Bill would Provide Resources for Flood Disasters and Levee Failure Protection

Washington – As Californians begin to prepare for the El Niño weather season, Rep. Jerry McNerney (CA-09) is pushing Congress to pass newly introduced legislation aimed at making sure local authorities are empowered on the ground to respond to flood disasters and prevent levee failures. Current Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regulations put constraints on a local agency’s ability to commit already scarce resources by limiting emergency assistance and work eligible for disaster assistance and reimbursement.

“El Niño could bring severe and unpredictable weather across California that could result in additional stress to the state’s already fragile levee system. In a flood situation, local authorities do not have time to be caught up in federal red tape. They must be readily able and prepared to respond to a disaster scenario, should a levee break or become overwhelmed. Preparation is critical in flood-prone regions as well as those not previously known for flooding, even after long periods of  intense drought conditions,” said Rep. McNerney. “With the Emergency Flood Response Act, I want to make sure the local agencies on the ground, specifically those with the most knowledge operating in a flood region, have the tools necessary to prepare, plan, and respond effectively to limit potential damage and injury that can be caused by flooding and crumbling levees.”

Levees are human-made structures that hold back or control flood waters from damaging housing, agricultural lands, businesses, and other areas. There are over 13,000 miles of levees across California. The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta region includes 1,100 miles of levee infrastructure that is considered aging and susceptible to structural integrity problems and failure.

Existing law allows the Army Corps of Engineers to supplement state and local entities in flood fighting, and in certain situations for “advance measures” assistance to prevent or reduce flood damage conditions of imminent threat of unusual flooding. Yet, the law restricts and limits the ability of local entities to respond quickly.

Rep. McNerney’s legislation, the Emergency Flood Response Act, directs FEMA to establish an emergency flood activity pilot program to assist flood response efforts in response to a levee failure or potential levee failure, and for other purposes.

The Emergency Flood Response Act intends to help local entities establish and maintain a flood emergency fund through a FEMA competitive grants pilot program. The funds would be used for emergency flood activities and would also ensure a unified command system for response in flood disaster scenarios. These funds would be applied to emergency flood activities that include: pre-planning and emergency action on levee failure prevention; closing levee breaks; making relief cuts and dewatering flooded areas; and limiting the extent, depth, and duration of flood waters in the event of a levee failure.

A 2012 report from the American Society of Civil Engineers, gave California’s levee system a “D” grade. According to the Army Corps of Engineers’ National Levees Database, nearly half of the 47 levee systems in Sacramento and San Joaquin Counties were classified as “unacceptable” based on their prior periodic inspection.

The Emergency Flood Response Act is supported by San Joaquin County.

“San Joaquin County is pleased to support Congressman McNerney’s efforts to introduce legislation that will address the current limitations of FEMA regulations that limit emergency assistance and work eligible for disaster assistance and reimbursement. It is imperative that local agencies, which already commit scare resources to assist in levee failure prevention, have access to additional financial resources to plan and assist in disaster response efforts without being hindered by these regulatory limitations.  This pilot program is the first step in achieving timely and coordinated response efforts for people and communities in the floodplain, nationwide,” stated San Joaquin County Supervisor Kathy Miller.

The bill will be referred to the appropriate House policy committee.

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Rep. Jerry McNerney proudly serves the constituents of California’s 9th Congressional District that includes portions of San Joaquin, Contra Costa, and Sacramento Counties. For more information on Rep. McNerney’s work, follow him on Facebook and on Twitter @RepMcNerney.