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KARL CHRISTIANS Floodplain Program Manager

I have read the report conducted by the Greater Yellowstone Coalition titled “Tempting Fate: Development in the 100-Year Floodplain of the Upper Yellowstone River.”

My reaction to this report was, “Well, yes, just as I expected, this report tells me what I already know and understand.” It should, being the State Floodplain Program Manager for the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, I know there is development occurring in the floodplains across the state. I also know that the amount of floodplain development is dramatically higher in the scenic areas of Montana, such as the upper Yellowstone River. Park County is the location of this particular study, but the results would be similar across much of this state.Relocating townsFor those of you who do not deal directly with floodplains, or the world of floodplain management, this report may be alarming. I work with floodplain managers across the nation, and with people from states where the entire floodplain is developed such as Texas, Colorado, North Carolina, and North Dakota. Do these states ring a bell? They should, for they have all experienced major flooding in recent years. If you recall the great floods of 1993, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been literally buying entire towns and relocating them out of the floodplain because of those floods.

You, the taxpayer, are providing the disaster relief to these and other disaster victims due to development within these floodplains.

However, one must understand that Park County adopted and complies with both federal and state minimum floodplain management regulations, and has since 1987. These current regulations (applicable to this county) allow most development in the 100-year floodplain, as long as it meets minimum development regulations. In addition to the state and federal standards, the county has also adopted additional regulations to address development in or near floodplains.

So, what’s my point? Well, it’s simple. If we want to avoid costly disaster expenses to the taxpayer and lose valuable floodplains, then we simply need to look at history and evaluate our position. Some may say, “Well, just keep people out of the floodplain, or hold them responsible for the damage.”Managing developmentThis is easier said than done. The task of managing development, both in and out of the floodplain, is a huge responsibility born upon the local governing officials, and it is always controversial. Property rights are one of the main issues because it is perceived that the local government is telling a landowner what they can or cannot do with their property.

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Evaluating the level of floodplain regulations is excruciating. It is not something that can be done across the board statewide. Each county must endure this process, for it is the elected officials that are charged with the protection of the interests and rights of the residents and taxpayers within their county.

Floodplain damage nationally is escalating annually, and it will not get less expensive to the taxpayers. I can only recommend the county keep the future in mind.

In conclusion, the GYC report should encourage everyone to get involved with the local decision-making process. In the case of regulations, floods are actually the one disaster that we can predict where they will occur, a key point that should be taken into consideration. Finally, the question that should be asked is, “If we continue to encourage at-risk development and ignore the impact to others, can we accept the consequences. And, are we willing to pay for them?”

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