Throughout time, floods have altered the floodplain landscape. These areas are continuously shaped by the forces of water; either eroded or built up through the deposit of sediment. More recently, the landscape has been altered by human development, affecting both the immediate floodplain and events downstream.
Historically, people have been attracted to bodies of water as places for living, industry, commerce and recreation. During the early settlement of the unincorporated Ventura County, floodplains provided fertile soils, making them prime agricultural lands. Settlements emerged beside the Ventura, Santa Clara and Calleguas rivers and other waterways for water and food supply, and access to transportation and recreational pursuits. In addition, due to their prime scenic and navigable locations, some coastal shoreline floodplains have been developed for residential communities, commercial and recreational harbors, and tourism enterprises.
Because floodplains have attracted people and industry, a substantial portion of the Nation’s development is now subject to flooding. Floodplains account for only seven percent of the country’s total land areas however; they contain a significant amount of property value. According to estimates provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), there are 8 to 10 million households in floodplains. Consequently, development has altered floodplains and the dynamics of flooding in many floodplain communities, including the unincorporated Ventura County, resulting in damage and destruction to buildings and community infrastructure by periodic flooding.
The strategies and tools available to help prevent problems and protect people and development from flooding have been developed over many years:
1800’s – The federal government got involved in floodplain management when it had an interest in maintaining the navigability of rivers to facilitate inter-state commerce.
1927 – The great Mississippi River flood led the federal government to become a major player in flood control.
1928 & 1936 – The Flood Control Acts facilitated the role of government agencies to build massive flood control structures to control major rivers, protect coastal areas and prevent flash flooding.
Up until the 1960’s – The primary approach to control floodwater in the United States was to use structural flood control projects such as dams, levees, and floodwalls. In spite of these efforts, flood losses and flood disaster relief expenses continued to rise primarily because more people continued to build in floodplains.
During the 1960’s – Congress became increasingly concerned with the high costs associated with construction of structural projects and federal disaster assistance. They concluded that although Federal flood programs were funded by all taxpayers, they primarily helped only residents of floodplains; flood protection structures could not protect everyone; people continued to build and live in floodplains thus still risking disaster; and the private insurance industry could not sell affordable flood insurance because only those at high risk would buy it.
1968 – Congress passed the National Flood Insurance Act to correct some of the shortcomings of the traditional flood control and flood relief programs. The Department of Housing and Urban Development was given the responsibility of administering the program. The Act created the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) which:
- Distributed floodplain management responsibility to all levels of government and the private sector.
- Established a national standard for regulating development in floodplains by requiring new and substantially improved buildings to be constructed so as to minimize or prevent damage during a flood.
- Created an insurance program as an alternate for disaster relief which transferred the costs of private property loss from the taxpayers to floodplain property owners through flood insurance premiums.
- Initiated a floodplain mapping program.
Since the 1970’s – Federal, state and local agencies began to develop policies and programs with a ‘non-structural’ emphasis; ones that did not require projects to physically control or redirect the path of floods but benefited from more environmental approaches such as protection and re-establishment of natural floodplain function, resources and landscapes.
1973 – The Flood Disaster Protection Act was passed which prohibited most types of Federal assistance for acquisition or construction of buildings in the floodplains to communities that did not join the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). It required buildings located in identified floodplains to have flood insurance coverage as a condition for receiving Federal financial assistance (mortgages, loans) from federally insured or regulated lenders. It also made it a mandatory requirement for communities to join the NFIP if they wanted to receive federal disaster assistance.
1994 – The National Flood Insurance Reform Act established the Community Rating System, increased the maximum amount of flood insurance coverage, strengthened the mandatory purchase requirement, and established a grant program for flood mitigation plans and projects.
Currently – The NFIP is currently administered by the Federal Emergency management Agency (FEMA) within the Department of Homeland Security. Many communities, including the unincorporated Ventura County, no longer depend solely on structural projects to control floodwater; they favor multi-purpose solutions that help reduce the risk of flood damage to life and property as well as protect and enhance the natural environment. These include, but are not limited to:
- Regulations to prohibit development in high-hazard areas called the Regulatory Floodway, as well as flood-specific building requirements in floodplains.
- Acquisition of floodplain lands as open space.
- Implementation of flood warning systems.
- Controlling stormwater runoff and requiring surface water quality control for development using a variety of environmental techniques called ‘Best Management Practices’.
- Providing flood protection information to property owners.
The following documents provide additional information on floodplain management: