President orders stricter standards for new federal buildings in flood-prone areas

President Barack Obama orders building and rebuilding of federal buildings in flood-prone areas to meet new standards.

Federal agencies building or rebuilding in flood-prone areas must use higher standards, according to an executive order from President Barack Obama Friday.

Those agencies have three alternatives when constructing new buildings or rebuilding others: use the best-available climate science; build two feet above the 100-year flood elevation for standard projects and three feet higher for critical buildings, such as hospitals and evacuation centers; or build to the 500-year flood elevation.

The effort is meant to make communities more resilient to climate change and ensure taxpayer dollars are more wisely spent.

“This should be one of the least controversial executive orders the president has ever released,” said Rachel Cleetus, lead climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists in a statement.

“It’s bad policy to rebuild in ways that perpetuate our risk of flooding and to sink taxpayer dollars into risky rebuilding efforts,” she said. “Federal funds should instead be spent on making coastal communities more resilient to sea level rise and coastal flooding.”

She called the president’s action common sense.

“Many communities across the country already recognized this and have issued building design guidelines that call for two feet of freeboard above the 100-year base flood elevation,” Cleetus said.

The standard hasn’t been changed in 37 years, while flood losses have risen and will probably get worse because of rising sea levels, storm surges along the coasts and more development in coastal areas, she added.

“Flooding during high tides — something that rarely occurred in the past — is now common in some places on the East and Gulf coasts of the U.S.,” she said. “Tidal flooding is expected to grow to the point that sections of coastal cities will flood so often they’ll become unusable in the near future, according to a study the Union of Concerned Scientists released in October. Most of the 52 coastal towns we looked at could see a tripling in annual tidal floods in 15 years and a tenfold increase in 30 years.”

Charleston was included in the study, which should expect between 50 and 100 tidal floods a year by 2030 and more than 180 similar events per year by 2045.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.