U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman today introduced legislation that would allow New Mexicans affected by wildfire on federal lands to more quickly take advantage of flood insurance administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Senator Tom Udall is a cosponsor.
Wildfires often increase the risk of flooding because the heat of the fire makes ground impermeable to water, which significantly increases runoff after a rainfall.
Under current law, however, there is a 30-day waiting period after flood insurance is purchased before coverage under a new contract can take effect; this is to prevent individuals from waiting until the last minute to purchase insurance in areas where the threat of flooding is high. The Senators' bill waives that 30-day period in instances where wildfire creates or exacerbates a new flooding problem in areas where that flooding would otherwise not be considered a significant threat.
"New Mexico is having a particularly devastating wildfire season, and with monsoon season approaching we need to make sure New Mexicans have adequate flood protection," Bingaman said. "Eliminating this 30-day waiting period will allow New Mexicans affected by our state's fires to more quickly access flood insurance and get the benefits of that coverage."
"Oftentimes the flooding that takes place in the aftermath of a wildfire will cause more long-term damage than the fire itself," said Udall. "Expediting the flood insurance process is especially important in New Mexico where the wildfire and monsoon seasons are so closely linked."
The Senators intend to press for an immediate vote on the bill. They will also seek to include it as part of larger bill reauthorizing the National Flood Insurance Program, legislation that Congress will be debating in the coming weeks.