As South Florida communities search for ways to combat sea level rise, efforts to improve flood drainage in the town of Jupiter have saved residents about $500,000 in flood insurance costs over the past year, according to the town’s utility services manager.
The National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Rating System reduces flood insurance premiums in municipalities across the country that undertake floodplain management activities.
The program most recently recognized Jupiter for removing debris from streams and natural water channels and making other capital improvements.
“As long as you have funding and you’re doing things to help improve the drainage systems, you gain more credit for doing those types of jobs,” said David Rotar, the utility services manager. “And that’s what we’ve been doing over the years.”
Rotar explained Jupiter’s floodplain management efforts at a meeting Thursday with other Palm Beach County resilience and development officers. The goal was to share advice on how other county municipalities can replicate Jupiter’s efforts.
Created in 1990 as a voluntary program, the Community Rating System is meant to incentivize communities to increase flood resistance. The program gives communities points depending on the magnitude of flood management projects. The points then determine how much flood insurance premiums—overseen by the Federal Emergency Management Agency—should decline. Costs can decrease by as much as 45 percent.
The program is especially beneficial in Florida, which has three times the homes at risk of flooding than any other state. Overall flood insurance costs have been increasing and could skyrocket in the future if FEMA transitions to risk-based pricing.
Rotar said Jupiter received 310 out of a maximum 470 points for debris removal efforts and other drainage improvements. Jupiter has multiple streams and canals that connect to flood drainage systems.
“So if you got trees falling down or you got people that are throwing trash into it, shopping carts whatever, it now becomes clogged and now that drainage system no longer works the way it should,” he said.
Representatives from other Palm Beach towns and cities at Thursday’s meeting were unsure whether they could simulate Jupiter’s efforts.
Deborah Manzo, Lantana’s town manager, said her town does not even have any streams that are above ground. She considered looking back at historical maps to see if any streams have been covered and whether the town can do anything with them.
Separately, Joseph Mercurio, Palm Beach County’s special projects coordinator for mitigation, said the ongoing government shutdown is hurting people’s ability to buy flood insurance.
FEMA says its processing flood insurance applications despite the shutdown. But Mercurio said that because many FEMA staffers are furloughed, nobody is picking up phones at offices. It’s preventing people from finalizing flood insurance purchases. He added that now is a crucial time to buy flood insurance before the upcoming hurricane season.
“There’s actual new residents to the community who may be wanting to purchase something like their flood insurance against their homeowners’ insurance policy,” he said. “Boy, the closer it gets to hurricane season, it really puts folks in a bind if they don’t have that in place.”
WLRN tried contacting FEMA about the stalled flood insurance purchases. An automated phone message said the agency is not responding to press queries because of the shutdown.