Growing Returns

Five reasons why mandatory flood disclosure in Florida would be a big win for realtors

By: Rachel Rhode, Manager, Climate Resilient Coasts and Watersheds and Eve Cooke, Fellow, Climate Resilient Coasts and Watersheds

Buying a home is often one of the biggest financial decisions individuals and families will ever make. More than one-third of Florida properties are at risk of severe flooding in the next 30 years, and despite these risks, Florida does not require flood-related disclosures to prospective homebuyers. Across the U.S., 32 states have enacted flood disclosure laws, requiring a seller to share a property’s flood risks or past flood damages during real estate transactions. Florida residents deserve transparency through flood disclosure, and realtors would benefit by keeping up with this growing industry standard.   

Knowing one’s risk is essential in ensuring effective preparedness and response. The Federal Emergency Management Agency estimates just one inch of flooding in a typical 2,500 sq. ft., one-story home can cause more than $25,000 in damages. It is widely misunderstood by more than one-third of homeowners that flood damage is typically not included in standard homeowners or rental insurance policies. 

Legislators and realtors are stepping up to address this gap in Florida’s flood policies. In the 2024 Florida Legislative Session, there has been bipartisan support for a new policy on flood disclosure. The Florida Realtor Association is amongst the stakeholders supporting this initiative. 

Knowledge is power.  Below are the top five reasons why mandatory flood disclosures are a win for realtors and residents. 

Credit: Chase Guttman

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Our Nation’s wetlands are at risk. So is our ability to manage flooding.

Following the Sackett v. EPA Supreme Court decision in May 2023, millions of acres of wetlands across the U.S. lost critical federal protections they once had under the Clean Water Act. The affected wetlands – which include those that do not have a continuous surface water connection to another federally protected body of water, like streams, lakes or an ocean – are now potentially at risk of loss and degradation. Also at risk could be the multitude of benefits provided by wetlands, which support clean drinking water, habitat for fish and wildlife, human health and well-being, contribute to economic activity and reduce damages from flooding. 

Photo credit: Sara Cottle

Why are these wetlands at risk? 

When the Supreme Court narrowed the definition of federally protected waters, state governments gained control over the regulation and protection of a large portion of wetlands. Unfortunately, many states lack the capacity or political will to regulate the use of wetlands and effectively enforce protective standards. 

Further, economic incentives for the protection of wetlands are misaligned. Private landowners and developers often have limited financial incentive to preserve wetlands because the benefits they derive from protection of these ecosystems do not reflect the total benefits that wetlands provide to society. While conversion of wetlands for housing development or agricultural production may be highly profitable for landowners, it also creates social and environmental costs that may exceed private benefits of conversion. 

Historically, the costs of regulation to private landowners have been well represented in public decision-making processes, but the social benefits of wetland protection have been omitted or underestimated. To ensure efficient protection of wetlands, it is critical that policymakers comprehensively evaluate both the social benefits and private costs of wetlands regulation. 

What are the benefits of protecting wetlands? 

In advocating for wetland protection, it is critical that the full range of benefits from wetlands is accurately quantified and valued. Such benefits include drinking water purification, flood risk reduction, habitat to support fish and wildlife, recreation and carbon storage – all of which become more important with increasing climate impacts. 

As climate change increases the severity and frequency of flooding, the capacity for wetlands to buffer people and property from flood damage becomes ever more valuable. Compared to traditional forms of grey infrastructure (e.g., dams, levees, seawalls), wetlands can be less expensive to maintain and more resilient to catastrophic flood events.  

What is the value of flood mitigation benefits provided by wetlands? 

In recent years, several studies have made important advancements in quantifying the economic value of wetlands for flood mitigation. Many of these studies employ hydrodynamic models which simulate how wetlands can reduce storm surge and the impacts of inland flood inundation. 

Based on this approach, Narayan et al. (2017) found that the loss of all coastal wetlands in the Northeastern U.S. (beyond losses prior to 2011) would have increased damages from Hurricane Sandy by $625 million. Similarly, Zaid Al-Attabi et al. (2023) estimated that the total loss of wetlands in Galveston Bay, TX would have increased damages from Hurricane Ike by $934 million. Importantly, these studies note that the effects of wetlands on flood damages depend on storm characteristics, local topography, landscape features and the presence and location of physical assets exposed to flood risk. 

A lady in a red coat stands in the middle of a puddle on the streets of Breezy Point after Sandy

These analyses provide important tools for simulating the impacts of alternative scenarios with and without wetlands. However, there have been few studies that test the effects of wetland loss on flood damage based on empirical evidence. Plus, more work is needed to understand the flood risk reduction benefits of non-tidal wetlands, which are more likely to be impacted by the Sackett v. EPA ruling.  

To address this gap, Taylor and Druckenmiller (2022) identified the effect of observed changes in wetland area on the value of flood insurance claims using econometric causal inference methods. Across the U.S., they found that a hectare (roughly the size of 2.5 football fields) of wetland lost between 2001 and 2016 cost the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) an average of $1,840 annually and over $8,000 annually in developed areas.  

What are the next steps? 

Researchers at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and UNC Chapel Hill are collaborating to better understand the flood risk reduction benefits of wetlands and how they are distributed across demographic and socioeconomic groups. Using observed NFIP claims data identified at the level of individual street addresses, this approach allows for a more accurate identification of when, where and for whom wetlands are most valuable. This study is being piloted in the Neuse River Basin in North Carolina with the intention to scale to other areas across the nation.  

In addition to motivating greater state and federal protection, quantifying the value of wetland ecosystem services is important for designing financial incentives and prioritizing areas for protection and restoration. For instance, one potential application could provide incentives for wetland protection or restoration by offering discounts on flood insurance premiums that correspond with the value of flood mitigation associated with upstream wetlands. Another potential application could provide conservation organizations and floodplain managers with additional information to help prioritize investments in restoration and protection.  

For these applications and others, building a more granular understanding of the geographic, temporal and ecological variation in the flood mitigation benefits provided by wetlands is critical. And overall, it is important that these benefits be viewed as part of a larger whole of the many instrumental and intrinsic values that wetlands provide.  

EDF is working together with scientists, economists, advocates and policymakers to better quantify, communicate and protect the breadth and value of ecosystem services provided by wetlands. This will require cutting-edge advancements in science and economics that are then translated to the public and to decision-makers in ways that are policy- and place-specific.  

 

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Advancing North Carolina’s Flood Resiliency Blueprint to combat growing storm risks

Over the past five years, North Carolina communities have endured storm after storm. From the estimated $16 billion of damage caused by the powerful forces of Hurricane Florence to excessive rainfall that engulfed mountain towns during Tropical Storm Fred to the lasting impacts from various unnamed storms, we’ve seen firsthand how flooding disasters are changing North Carolina and its communities.  

Now, more than ever, new approaches are required to address the increasing rate and severity of extreme rain events in North Carolina to safeguard communities, ecosystems and local economies. One way to reduce these risks is to build flood resilience across the state, an effort that has proven to save $6 for every $1 spent pre-disaster 

North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is developing the state’s first-ever Flood Resiliency Blueprint in collaboration with numerous stakeholders, including Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), conservation partners, agricultural organizations, business representatives and local governments. And we are thrilled to celebrate the release of DEQ’s draft plan, which was presented to the General Assembly on January 23.  

At the Joint Legislative Commission on Government Operations Hurricane Response and Recovery subcommittee, DEQ Secretary Elizabeth Biser envisioned that “five years from now, other states will be looking to North Carolina because our process lets communities get back to day to day living quicker after storm events.” The Blueprint is a big step forward, resulting in a massive statewide effort dedicated to building resilient communities equipped to reduce and manage flood risk and vulnerabilities. 

Photo credit: Gene Gallin

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Sharing innovative solutions to build climate resilience in Cuban coastal communities

The sun beats hot past colonial facades and newly minted hotels in Old Havana, onto the children playing soccer across Paseo del Prado. High tides splash over the tidal wall and the taxi driver notes, over the noise of the street, that dark storm clouds line the horizon and are threatening heavy rains. Like other coastal and island regions, communities in Cuba are experiencing the disproportionate effects of climate change.   

Since 2016, Environmental Defense Fund, the Antonio Núñez Jiménez Foundation for Nature and Humankind and the Caribbean Agroecology Institute have partnered with local communities and organizations from Cuba as a part of the Research Initiative for the Sustainable Development of Cuba (RISDoC). RISDoC is a coalition of academics, civil society associations and representatives from international agencies who have come together to exchange innovative strategies and share lessons learned to prepare for climate impacts and spur sustainable economic growth. In addition to bringing together a range of Cuban community members, government officials and researchers, RISDoC connects experts from other regions with Cuba. This includes partners in Puerto Rico and Louisiana, regions that are experiencing more frequent and severe storms due to climate change and are working to build resilience.  

Thanks to this important initiative, RISDoC participants are building a more resilient future in Cuba. Check out a few of their key priorities: 

Photo credit: Noel López

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Revisiting a centuries-old approach to farming that embraces water scarcity.

As discussions at COP28 wrestle with climate impacts on global food and water security, we hear from a Hopi farmer on his thriving practice of dry farming and his hopes for shared learning in Dubai.

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The arid climate of the Hopi reservation in northeastern Arizona receives a mere 8.5 inches of annual rainfall. For perspective, the yearly United States average is 30 inches. Despite this severe aridity, for over 3,000 years, the Hopi people have stewarded an extraordinary agricultural tradition centered on dry farming.

Dr. Michael Kotutwa Johnson is an Indigenous Resiliency Specialist at the University of Arizona and a leading practitioner of Hopi dry farming — a form of agriculture that eschews irrigation in regions with limited water moisture. As a 250th-generation Hopi dry farmer, his ongoing traditional practices are a  testament to the power of cultural values and the potential of climate-adaptive farming. These ongoing Hopi farming practices defy modern notions of crop needs and vulnerability in areas with limited irrigation and water supply.

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Water is a high-level priority at COP 28, we need to look to ground-level users for solutions

Water has finally reached the highest levels of global climate negotiations. The path to a sustainable freshwater future, however, lies with ground-level users. At COP 28, EDF is elevating their voices, their needs and the approaches they find most useful.

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While greenhouse gases drive climate change, many of its impacts are inherently liquid. Whether through drought, flood, sea-level rise, or contamination, water increasingly forms the turbulent core of the climate crisis.

Over the past year, this basic reality was finally acknowledged at the global planning table.  Thanks to a strong push from its Egyptian hosts, last year’s edition of the main UN climate conference, COP 27, made water a central theme. The cover decision — the summation of the conference’s key agreements — featured water and food for the first time. The decision acknowledged the central role of water in countering climate impacts and called for water-related targets in national climate planning.

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Transformational climate adaptation puts communities at the center. This project shows us how.

From record-setting rain in New York City to overflowing rivers in Vermont to another hurricane slamming into Florida’s coast – this year alone, we’ve seen historic neighborhoods, communities, local businesses and homes devastated by severe weather events that are becoming more intense and frequent due to climate change. Now more than ever, we need to invest in climate resilience to prepare our communities. 

Building resilience isn’t easy, but it’s possible – and the Ohio Creek Watershed project in the City of Norfolk, Virginia is a prime example. Earlier this year, city officials and community members celebrated the completion of a $112 million watershed resilience project that shows transformational climate action is possible when community members have a seat at the decision-making table.  Read More »

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Opportunities to support equitable and just housing adaptation in the floodplain

Co-authored by: Anushi Garg and Linda Shi

Anushi is the senior analyst for Environmental Defense Fund’s Climate Resilient Coasts & Watersheds program in New York-New Jersey. Linda is the assistant professor for Department of City and Regional Planning at Cornell University.

Flooding is one of our nation’s most common, devastating and growing disasters–and the risk is deeply unequal. Years of disinvestment due to redlining and other racist land use and housing policies have put primarily Black, Indigenous, Latinx and immigrant communities at disproportionately higher risk of flooding and less able to adapt or financially recover after a flood event. Each disaster can devastate individuals and families with the fewest resources and further exacerbate these inequities

To help communities adapt, we need to expand and modify programs and policies to support the strategic relocation and adaptation of the existing housing stock, in addition to updating building codes and zoning regulations so new construction meets a higher standard of energy efficiency and resiliency. 

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Cornell University partnered this past year to better understand the programs that support proactive retrofitting or relocating to accommodate flood risk for a range of housing types in New York City. In particular, we studied cooperative housing, which is minimally researched and often left out of most assistance programs. This research served as a pilot for EDF’s ongoing research on housing assistance programs nationally. Our research is still underway, but we are sharing our preliminary takeaways about opportunities to close the resilient housing gap Read More »

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For some Texans, a day without water is not imaginary – it is an unfortunate reality

In Presidio County, running water is a luxury that some residents do not enjoy. Families in Las Pampas, a Colonia near the Mexican border, must truck water from the City of Presidio to their homes north of town, spending money and time to secure what many Texans take for granted – running water and the economic opportunity this provides. Decades ago, when Las Pampas was first developed, a few groundwater wells supplied water to homes and even a restaurant, but the wells were poorly constructed and too shallow to access reliable underground water in this desert region.  Eventually, they stopped flowing, and Las Pampas literally dried up. Read More »

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On this International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, protecting the Nation’s wetlands is more important and urgent than ever

By: Ivy Steinberg McElroy, EDF’s Climate Resilient Coasts & Watersheds Intern

The International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction was established by the United Nations General Assembly to accelerate action to strengthen disaster resilience. In the United States, this day comes on the heels of a major blow to our Nation’s wetlands. Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to narrow the scope of protections for wetlands, as defined in the Clean Water Act. As result, this landmark decision could cause detrimental impacts to the environment, communities and economy. That means more flooding – especially for more vulnerable communities downstream.  Read More »

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