FEMA shifts course on flood map modeling

The Federal Emergency Management Agency says it will take a second look at the flood risk of communities without federal flood protection before it approves new flood risk maps.

The maps are important because insurers base their rates on them.

The policy change affects communities across the United States. Many have complained that FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers have disregarded levee improvements paid for by local and state governments.

In a letter to congressional members, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said the agency would do a more detailed analysis of the flood risk of communities that are not protected by federally accredited levees. Until now, FEMA regarded communities protected by unaccredited levees as being entirely without levees.

Last month, 27 senators from both parties wrote to Fugate, asking him to scrap the "without levee" policy in favor of a more nuanced analysis of flood risk.

Fugate's letter said the new analysis would "better reflect the flood risk" in areas without levees that meet federal standards. The administrator added that flood maps for such areas will not be completed before a new analysis is done.

U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said the policy shift would help "residents in areas that faced higher insurance rates."

FEMA and Congress are working on reauthorizing the National Flood Insurance Program. Updating flood maps is part of that work.