Rural Resilience

Breaking the Cycle: Missouri Town’s Fight Against Flooding

In De Soto, Missouri’s town center, over 200 residents live on a flood plain. Historically, this area didn’t experience flooding, but recently,  as reported by NASA and other scientists, climate change has increased the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, including rainstorms, which are causing more frequent and severe flash floods in De Soto.  Additionally, recent urban development upstream from De Soto is exacerbating the situation by increasing runoff into Joachim Creek, which flows through the town. The development involves altering the landscape in ways that channel more water into the creek, significantly increasing its water level at alarming rates, sometimes nearly two feet per hour.

FEMA has initiated the process of revising regulations to curb development that exacerbates flooding. For communities like De Soto nationwide, it is existentially important that FEMA finish its research and deploy these revisions. . By refining these regulations, FEMA can ensure that future constructions are not located in flood-prone areas and that new buildings are more resilient to storms and floods. 

Last year, FEMA sought public feedback on these changes, receiving responses from multiple community organizations, including De Soto’s Citizens Committee for Flood Relief. These groups have called on FEMA to implement these much-needed updates promptly.

“In De Soto, the Army Corps of Engineers deemed 229 homes, including much of our historic two-block Main Street, at severe risk of flooding. Of those, it said 79 are at such risk that they should be bought out — but the Army Corps doesn’t do buyouts, FEMA does”, said De Soto resident Susan Liley to Missouri Independent. “So, 22 of those homeowners applied for a buyout from FEMA. They were denied. FEMA said we should start smaller. So five homeowners applied – and were again denied, but FEMA then told them that they were in “the stack,” a kind of waiting list.”

Properties that frequently flood account for a significant portion of the claims paid by FEMA’s flood insurance program. Currently, taxpayer money is spent on reconstructing homes that residents would rather leave, seeking areas less prone to flooding. However, as demonstrated by the situation in De Soto, the process for buyouts is overly bureaucratic and protracted, averaging 5.7 years. This makes them impractical unless one has the financial means and patience to endure the wait. Additionally, the buyouts have a high possibility of becoming a more efficient use of taxpayer dollars.

With assistance from other organizations, such as the Army Corps, the town has made some progress. However, new residents continue to move in, purchasing homes that have previously been flooded and remain vulnerable to future storms. To break this cycle, FEMA’s intervention is crucial for a substantial resolution.
“It’s time for FEMA to do its job and update these standards for the sake of my neighbors, De Soto, and thousands of people like us across the country,” said Liley to the Missouri Independent. To learn more about flooding and what can be done in vulnerable communities click here to read more!