Why are we rebuilding in flood and fire zones?

Springs Fire In Southern California Gains Strength, Continues To Threaten Homes
© Getty Images

Yesterday, I wrote about Kate Sheppard's report on the shortsighted policy of rebuilding flood-damaged homes in areas that will inevitably flood again.

Brad Plumer raises the same concern, asking, "Why does the government encourage people to build homes in wildfire zones?":

The number of people living in fire-prone areas has grown dramatically: Some 250,000 new residents have settled in Colorado’s “red zone” over the past two decades. And this is likely to increase further in the years ahead: If you look at all the land out West on the boundary between wildlands and urban areas, Gorte notes, only about 16 percent of it is developed. So there’s still a lot of room for new housing in wildfire-prone regions.

And Gorte notes that certain policies appear to provide perverse incentives for building in these zones. State and local governments are mostly in charge of deciding whether to develop this land. Yet the federal government picks up the biggest piece of the tab for fire suppression and protection — now spending about $3 billion per year. In essence, homeowners have been building in fire zones and counting on taxpayers to protect them.

Read the rest.

Sheppard and Plumer are right that it isn't wise to continue spending billions of dollars rebuilding after some disastrous flood or fire just so people can move back into areas known to be at risk for more destruction. And since we all can't live in areas with the least amount of risk -- 123 million people live in coastal counties, for example -- this begs the question, when will we start investing billions of dollars to decrease risk rather than simply continuing this expensive loop of disaster recovery?

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