February 27, 2019
The two parties don’t get along much in Washington, D.C., these days, but occasionally members of Congress do cross the aisle to try to fix problems and resolve needs that their respective districts share.
Consider northern California Reps. John Garamendi, a Democrat, and Doug LaMalfa, a Republican. To be certain, they have their disagreements over national policy.
For instance, while LaMalfa supports President Donald Trump’s recent national emergency declaration, Garamendi introduced a bill that would prevent Trump from raiding U.S. Army Corps of Engineers disaster-recovery funds to build a wall on the border with Mexico.
But the two neighboring lawmakers mostly see eye to eye when it comes to water issues. For example, they’ve worked together on securing funding for the proposed Sites Reservoir west of Maxwell and sought to speed preliminary studies on the project.
One issue they’ve been working on for more than five years is an effort to ease restrictions on building agricultural structures in floodplains. They introduced their first bill in 2013, seeking unsuccessfully to exempt structures like sheds, barns, and silos from Federal Emergency Management Agency rules they say effectively prohibit growers from upgrading facilities.
Under current law, areas across the country designated by FEMA as “Special Flood Hazard Areas” require that all new, expanded, or repaired structures be raised above potential flood level, Garamendi’s office explains in a news release.
In much of the Sacramento Valley, this would involve raising barns and silos as much as 10 feet, which growers say is cost-prohibitive and would make it more difficult to farm. So essentially, many farmers in the valley are precluded from making capital improvements on their operations or securing necessary financing, Garamendi argues.
Enter his latest collaboration with LaMalfa — the Flood Insurance for Farmers Act, or House Resolution 830. The bill would order FEMA to develop a new hazard map for basins in the Sacramento Valley and elsewhere protected by old levees that don’t currently meet the federally mandated 100-year level of flood protection.
The National Flood Insurance Program’s rates in the new zone would be based on actuarial risk, meaning FEMA would charge rates based on a discounted risk level if levees provided, say, a 50-year level of flood protection. Currently, FEMA assumes there’s no protection at all if a levee doesn’t meet the 100-year standard, and charges these ratepayers at full cost.
The bill, which was in the House of Representatives’ Financial Services Committee at press time, is endorsed by the California Rice Commission and USA Rice Federation, as several key rice dryers are among the facilities in the valley’s floodplain.
Multiple other organizations have also endorsed the bill, including the California Farm Bureau Federation and California Cattlemen’s Association, as have the region’s counties and the Sutter Butte Flood Control Agency.
Often these regional bills get lost in the shuffle in Congress, but kudos for Garamendi and LaMalfa for trying again.
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