FAIRFIELD, CA – Congressman John Garamendi (D-Fairfield, CA), a former Insurance Commissioner and a life-long rancher, has won praise for his bipartisan legislation, the Flood Insurance for Farmers Act, H.R. 4020.
An article from Capital Press and a Rural TV news report, both included below, explain why H.R. 4020 is needed and how it helps agricultural communities.
Bill would ease flood insurance restrictions: California Farm Bureau Federation praises legislation
By Tim Hearden
MARYSVILLE, Calif. -- A bill in Congress would make it easier for farmers protected by weakened levees to insure building upgrades on their land.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is working through a remapping of floodplains and has downgraded many of the levees that protect agricultural land in California, finding they are no longer adequate to guard against 100-year floods.
As a result, farmers in many places have had difficulties putting in new or upgraded structures to maintain or increase production. Among those is Charley Mathews, a Marysville rice grower who said he was required to put flood vents in a new concrete grain storage structure.
"I have flood vents that only open when the building's empty," Mathews said. "I have a pretty solid concrete building that floodwaters are not going to damage anyway, but there's nothing that separates me out from a wood house."
A bill by Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., would allow farmers to obtain subsidized flood insurance on existing and new agricultural structures in these zones. The bill would also establish a task force to study flood insurance issues in "legacy communities" whose main economy is or has been agriculture, according to a news release.
The legislation would exempt new and substantially improved agricultural structures from the flood plans communities must adopt to be eligible for flood insurance from FEMA, according to a bill analysis.
Aspects of Garamendi's bill have won praise from the California Farm Bureau Federation, which is working with the newly formed Agricultural Floodplain Management Alliance to advocate farming as the best lowest-risk use of floodplains, said Elisa Noble, the Farm Bureau's director of livestock, public lands and natural resources.
"We will be working with his office and the Alliance to further develop the best assistance for agricultural communities located in floodplains," including provisions that compensate rural communities for bearing the increased risk from the remapping, Noble told the Capital Press in an e-mail.
Garamendi, a cattle rancher from Walnut Grove, Calif., said farmers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta region appealed to him for help.
"I am proud to take their voice to Washington, so American farmers have the freedom to grow their businesses and grow the products this country needs," he said in a statement.
Many existing levees that protect agricultural land have recently been downgraded by a study of the Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Large amounts of US farmland are being designated as flood areas if the levees in those areas are not found to give 100 year protection. This would require property owners in these areas to purchase flood insurance, pay higher rates, and all new construction or improvements would have to meet stricter building requirements. In many of these areas, flood insurance is not available and farmers would not be able to improve or build new agricultural structures necessary to support or grow their business.
FEMA determined that California is the first state to have its floodplains and levees studied and mapped. Some affected California farmers are saying these restrictions on floodplains could make now productive agricultural communities disappear. The first new designations and maps released by FEMA put almost all of Sutter County in a "Special Flood Hazard Area." Rural residents there say the level of flood insurance and certification required now is cost prohibitive and unattainable for most farmers. It could shut them down. They will be prohibited from making improvements worth more than 50 percent of the structure's value. And anyone with a federally backed mortgage will automatically be required to purchase flood insurance, which will increase insurance costs for that property by four to six percent.
The bill introduced by Congressman Garamendi, who was California's Insurance Commissioner from 1991 to 1995 and is also a lifelong rancher, proposes insurance subsidies for farmers in these areas, a study of the costs of insurance in these areas, (particularly in California where large premiums are required but little is paid out in return) and a provision to make sure flood insurance is available to property owners in these areas.