Report Shows Flood Insurance Unaffordable for California Farmers & New Guidelines are Needed Says Senator Feinstein, Congressman Garamendi, and Congressman LaMalfa

Jul 29, 2014 Issues: Agriculture, Economy, Make it in America, Water

With Agriculture Threatened, Members of Congress Release GAO Report &
Urge FEMA to Produce More Flexible Guidelines for Building Agricultural Structures in Floodplains

WASHINGTON, DC- Today, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Congressman John Garamendi (D-CA-03), and Doug LaMalfa (R-CA-01) announced the release of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report they requested titled National Flood Insurance Program: Additional Guidance on Building Requirements to Mitigate Agricultural Structures’ Damage in High-Risk Flood Areas is Needed. The GAO report looks at the impact of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) on agricultural producers in floodplains.  GAO researchers met with producers in Sutter and Yolo counties, in addition to other counties across the country, to learn more about their experiences with the NFIP.

The three Members of Congress also sent a letter today (included below) to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate telling him that building requirements under the NFIP are so inflexible that they are forcing some producers in California “to forego plans to construct important agricultural structures in floodplains currently used for producing crops or livestock.” These farmers are currently unable to expand their operations unless they flood proof buildings or build structures above the base flood elevation (BFE).  In some areas of Northern California, the BFE is 15 feet above the ground and building barns or processing facilities on stilts 15 feet high is just not feasible. The letter urges FEMA to issue guidelines with additional flexibility for agricultural producers within one year.

“These inflexible regulations are like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. My constituents in Sutter and Yolo counties and residents across Northern California are constrained by rules that don’t make sense. As a result, it is completely impractical and unaffordable for them to build or repair a variety of structures,” said Congressman John Garamendi (D-CA-03). “Congressman LaMalfa and I have introduced H.R. 3315 to protect agriculture from these unrealistic regulations. Also, together with Senator Feinstein, we are calling on FEMA to take swift action, so that agriculture can continue to serve as the backbone of California’s rural economy.”

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said, “The uncertainty created by the National Flood Insurance Program’s new standards hurts California farmers. The GAO report clearly shows the current standards are unworkable for agricultural structures, and we strongly urge FEMA to provide farmers with additional flexibility that addresses their unique needs.”

Congressman Doug LaMalfa (R-CA-01) said, “It’s clear that current regulations fail to account for the distinction between residential and agricultural structures and impose unrealistic, unnecessary requirements on farmers and ranchers. The report makes a compelling case for updating FEMA floodplain rules to reflect the reality that farms and homes have different flood protection needs.”

Kristi More, Federal Director for the Agricultural Floodplain Management Alliance said, “AFMA is incredibly thankful for the leadership of Senator Feinstein, Congressman Garamendi, and Congressman LaMalfa on this important issue. We look forward to continuing to work on finding relief for ag producers and preserving our rural communities.”

GAO Report Links and Pages of Interest:

  • Full Report
  • Summary of Report
  • Chart on selected agriculture riverine communities shows Sutter and Yolo counties have had the most dramatic change from the recent FEMA map update. (pg. 17)
  • Other agricultural areas in vast riverine floodplains with deep flood depths across the country include Southwest Illinois, Northeast Arkansas, Southwest Mississippi, Southeast North Carolina, and Northwestern Missouri. (pg. 23)
  • Selected communities and the number of farmers, rural residents, agricultural lenders and developers interviewed. (pg. 43)
  • Additional information on selected agricultural and rural communities. (pg. 54)

Letter to FEMA on Agriculture and the NFIP:

July 29, 2014

The Honorable Craig Fugate


Federal Emergency Management Agency

500 C Street, SW

Washington, DC 20472


Dear Administrator Fugate,

                We write today to urge you to set a timeline to provide additional flexibilities for agricultural producers to comply with National Flood Insurance Program standards.  We believe it is important that your agency provide this guidance within one year as the current program’s lack of flexibility has forced some producers in our state to forego plans to construct important agricultural structures in floodplains currently used for producing crops or livestock. 

                Today, the Government Accountability Office released a report we requested entitled National Flood Insurance Program: Additional Guidance on Building Requirements to Mitigate Agricultural Structures’ Damage in High-Risk Floor Areas is Needed.  The report found that your agency’s flood insurance program requires agricultural producers to either elevate structures or to create large openings in structures to allow water to flow through in the event of a flood.  In deep floodplains in places like Yolo or Sutter County, these options are unworkable as they would require a producer to either elevate a structure as high as 15 feet off the ground or to create large openings in a structure that would expose agricultural products to pests and pathogens. 

                Given that agriculture is an effective use of deep floodplains and that agricultural structures serve very different purposes than residential structures, we hope your agency will quickly move to provide reasonable options for farmers to mitigate flood risk while building structures suitable for farming purposes.  We also hope you will work with the Food & Drug Administration to ensure your policies for agricultural structures are compatible with any relevant food safety standards. 

                Thank you for your agency’s work to ensure that our nation is prepared for natural disasters.  We strongly believe that additional flexibility is required for agricultural producers and look forward to hearing when your agency plans to provide additional guidance for this industry.  If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us, or direct your staff to contact Tristan Colonius in Senator Feinstein’s office at 202-224-2004 or Liz Crow in Congressman Garamendi’s office at 202-225-1880.


Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator

John Garamendi
Member of Congress

Doug LaMalfa
Member of Congress