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Action agenda for managing the nation's floodplains
h [electronic resource] :
b a review of floodplain management in the United States : an assessment report /
National Review Committee, Raymond J. Burby ... [et al.].
[Boulder, Colo.] :
Natural Hazards Research and Applications, Information Center, Institute of Behavioral Science, University of Colorado,
1 online resource (15,  p.)
Special publication / Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Center ;
z United States.
Burby, Raymond J.,
University of Colorado, Boulder.
Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Center.
Special publication (University of Colorado, Boulder. Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Center) ;
t Natural Hazards Center Collection
ACTION AGENDA FOR MANAGING THE NATION'S FLOODPLAINS A Review of Floodplain Management in the United States: An Assessment Report National Review Committee Raymond J. Burby Gerald E. Galloway James E. Goddard James G. Gosselink H. James Owen Rutherford H Platt William E. Riebsame, Vice-Chair John R. Sheaffer French Wetmore Gilbert F White, Chair Stanley M. Williams Special Publication 25 Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Center
ACTION AGENDA FOR MANAGING THE NATION'S FLOODPLAINS A Review of Floodplain Management in the United States: An Assessment Report National Review Committee Raymond J. Burby Gerald E. Galloway James E. Goddard James G. Gosselink H. James Owen Rutherford H. Platt William E. Riebsame, Vice-Chair John R. Sheaffer French Wetmore Gilbert F. White, Chair Stanley M. Williams March 1992 Special Publication 25 Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Center Institute of Behavioral Science University of Colorado
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Preparation of both our detailed comments and this broader assessment was greatly facilitated by the staff of the Natural Hazards Research and Applications Informa tion Center of the University of Colorado at Boulder, and by its project manager, Mary Fran Myers.
ACTION AGENDA FOR MANAGING THE NATION'S FLOODPLAINS Table of Contents Foreword v The Situation in Brief 2 Two Goals of National Floodplain Management 4 Assessment 5 Factors Affecting Further Activity 9 RecorrunendedAction 11
FOREWORD When preparations began for An Assessment Report on Floodplain Management in the United States, the federal agencies more directly involved invited critical appraisal by a group of persons outside of the federal government. A National Review Committee was selected to represent a wide variety of experience and outlook in floodplain matters. The National Review Committee was supplied with the draft Assessment and then with the comments on the draft that had been submitted by more than 50 individuals and nonfederal organizations. After reviewing the full set of materials the National Review Committee prepared two documents. One was a detailed set of comments and suggestions on the entire draft Assessment. This incorpor ated or referred to, as seemed appropriate to the commit tee, the comments by other reviewers. All of this materialranging from corrections of data to observations on broad conclusions-was transmitted to the Federal Interagency Floodplain Management Task Force and to the staff revising the draft report. Insofar as the comments seemed relevant to the task force and the staff, they were incorpor ated into the final Assessment. The second document was a brief statement from the National Review Committee, an Action Agenda for Managing the Nation's Floodplains. That statement is presented here. It outlines concisely what the committee regarded as the present situation, how federal aims and activities have evolved, and desirable next steps. It is not, therefore, a commentary on the final Assessment. Rather, it offers the considered judgment of one set of reviewers on the prob lems addressed in the Assessment. In that fashion it invites examination by all who seek improvement in the use and protection of the nation's floodplainS. It assumes the reader
vi / Action Agenda will either be familiar with the Assessment or will be moved to consult the longer document. The Action Agenda was prepared in 1989-10ng before the full Assessment and summary document were completed. If the conclusions in the National Review Committee report and the Interagency Task Force's Assessment are to be translated into action, an unprecedented effort will be required on the part of interested nongovernment groups and local and state agencies. New federal legislation and executive initiatives are unlikely to take shape without strong encouragement from that direction. In any event, the most forward-looking federal actions could not be implemented fully without cooperation with state, local, and nongovernment groups. Gilbert F. White, Chair National Review Committee
ACTION AGENDA FOR MANAGING THE NATION'S FLOODPLAINS A report on the status of floodplain management in the United States provides a timely occasion to examine the effectiveness of those activities in recent years and the extent to which they are likely to meet the nation's needs in the years ahead. We have reviewed the interim Status Report on the Nation's Floodplain Management Activity (subsequently titled Floodplain Management in the United States: An Assessment Report) and have offered a detailed set of comments on the data and analysis it contains. These comments have been transmitted to the Federal Interagency Floodplain Management Task Force, the organization responsible for the report, and to L.R. Johnston Associates, the principal contractor. Based on review of that report and our experience with diverse aspects of floodplain problems, in this paper we call attention to implications of the report for future public and private policy affecting the use of floodplains. We sum up the present situation, observe how the national aims of floodplain management have evolved and how federal activities have moved toward them, and recommend further action required in light of current conditions and trends. The test of how well the management activities are being carried out is in what happens at the level of individual farms, households, and local communities. We have assessed the wide-ranging efforts of federal, state, and local agencies to support or guide actions at that level, and have sought to appraise the outcomes of those efforts as reflected in the natural and social envirorunent of the nation's floodplains and related areas. This report sums up the committee's assessment and recommends a series of actions
2 / Action Agenda that should be taken as soon as practicable at the federal level. At the outset it is important to recognize that in practice there is no truly unified national program for floodplain management. This stems in part from ambiguity in national goals. If the limited resources of money and people are to be effectively deployed, it will be necessary to clarify and harmonize the two major goals outlined below-the reduction of vulnerability to flooding and the preservation of natural values-as they have come to be defined on the national scene and as they are discussed in the following pages. In numerous instances the evidence provided by the Status Report is insufficient to warrant a firm judgment as to the progress of floodplain management. In those cases we suggest steps that should be taken to provide a basis for sound evaluation. Lacking fully satisfactory data, we nevertheless have ventured provisional judgments regard ing what has been happening and what accounts for con spicuous successes and failures. Further data collection and analysis thereby may be spurred. The present status of floodplain management does not encourage complacency. The record is mixed. There are encouraging trends, as with the number of communities having some form of floodplain regulations, but the rising toll of average annual flood losses has not been reversed or even halted. Some activities appear more productive on paper than in reality, and in some cases the reduction in the real vulnerability of people is questionable. On balance, progress has been far short of what is desirable or possible, or what was envisaged when the current policies and activities were initiated. THE SITUATION IN BRIEF When the first federal commitment to alleviating flood problems on a national scale took shape in 1936, the program relied heavily on protection of hazardous areas by
Action Agenda / 3 flood control works in the floodplain or upstream. In 1966 an Executive Order increased the options to a broader array of measures that could be practiced by federal, state, and local agencies to manage flood losses. During the late 60s and early 70s, with increasing environmental awareness and the passage of national environmental protection and clean water legislation, additional attention was focused on protection of the natural values of floodplains. The possible federal approaches were refined and expanded in A Unified National Program for Flood Plain Management in 1976, and further revised in 1979 and 1986, as described in the Status Report. Despite massive public and private efforts to reduce flood vulnerability, losses to the nation due to occupancy of riverine and coastal areas subject to inundation are continuing to escalate in constant dollars. Some of the losses can be attributed to failure to complete protection works. Most can be attributed to increased property at risk; vulnerable property clearly is expanding in both extent and value. Losses include damages to properties and public infrastructure, disruption of local economies, disruption of traffic flows, and death and suffering for people living or caught in flooded areas. Average annual damages for the country as a whole are on the order of $2-6 billion (in 1985 dollars). However, the statistics are notoriously incomplete and inaccurate. There has been little careful appraisal of benefits derived from the use of floodplains. When floodplains are developed for urban and agricul tural purposes, the resources they provide in their natural state may be reduced. Data on the rate and quality of loss of these environmental assets are also poor. Again, the continuing flood damages and losses stem from the ways floodplains are used. Private interests, in many instances, develop land to maximize the owners' economic return but in a fashion that degrades natural values and increases public expenditure for relief, rehabilitation, and corrective action. Government programs, however well intentioned, often encourage such adverse development. The exceptions,
4 / Action Agenda however, where development enhances and preserves natural values, provide encouragement that this approach may be achieved more widely. The current system for managing floodplains and protecting the nation from impacts of unwise use is piecemeal. It is dispersed among a variety of agencies at federal, state, and local levels. The Unified National Program was intended to correct this. In order to address why that program has not succeeded and what now should be done, it is important to step back, and recognize and clarify the goals that have evolved. TWO GOALS OF NATIONAL FLOODPLAIN MANAGEMENT The floodplain management goals now being pursued by the nation are two-fold and interrelated, and often not easily harmonized. 1. To reduce the vulnerability of all Americans to the danger and damage of floods. The dangers of flooding include threats to life, safety, public health, and mental well-being, as well as damage to properties and infrastructure, and disruption of the econo my. Protection from these hazards should be provided, by whatever measures are suitable, for floods of the 1 % frequency level ("lOO-year floods") as a minimum. Protec tion from the effects of greater, less frequent flooding is still needed in those places where such flooding would cause unacceptable or catastrophic damages. 2. To preserve and enhance the natural values of the nation's floodplains. Natural floodplains serve society by providing floodwater storage, groundwater recharge, water quality en hancement, aesthetic pleasure, and habitat for plants and
Action Agenda / 5 animals. Many floodplains also have cultural and historical significance. Urban and agricultural development in flood plains may reduce these benefits with resulting costs to society, either in degraded quality of life or in the expense of replacement. It is in the public interest to avoid development that destroys these values or, in instances where the public good requires development, to assure that measures are taken to mitigate the loss through replacement or other means. These two goals are reconcilable and achievable through appropriate management shared by the agencies involved in ways that can be measured. ASSESSMENT The National Review Committee believes that: While considerable progress has been made over the past two decades, the Unified National Program is neither unified nor national. In several respects it falls short of achieving the goals set out for it by the Con gress and previous administrations. It does not inte grate adequately either the numerous program aims that have been set forth or the efforts of those charged with implementing them. Federal agencies have, in general, made efforts to focus on the immediate goals of their specific missions defined in legislation and administrative guidance, as outlined in Table 1. They have, for the most part, been diligent and forward looking within the bounds of their statutory charters. At the technical level, they have made major contributions to the nation's ability to cope with flood hazards. However, Table 1 does not show the vast differences among agencies in how they foster local efforts. It does suggest the complexity faced by a local agency when trying to deal with diverse federal programs.
AGENCY / . ,p l> ... ',f.,p s i ;J. ... :f '" s $' q, III ... g .: r o 0 JI.(J 0 Ii...p Ii ... q, '" lili .. .... Il Sf' I lqf!s Ilq, Il Il (Jli & f!Q lQ:::i;! Sa :\s 0 S t! !!i S If S!:' S Ii:t? f sq, q, .,,;:i FLOODPLAIN MANAGEMENT PROGRAMS Q Q Q Flood Hazard Studies/Reports X X X X X I Technical/Planning Assistance X X X X X X X X X Structural Flood Control X X X X X Warning and Forecasting X X Emergency Preparedness and Recovery X X X X X X X Research X X X X X X X Nonstructural Flood Control X X X X X Environmental Protection X X Water Quality Protection and Wetlands X X X X X I I Protection of Endangered Species X TABLE 1 FEDERAL AGENCIES AND FIDODPLAIN MANAGEMENT PROGRAMS
Action Agenda / 7 There is no central direction for the Unified National Program. No agency has the charter or capability to carry out the program in its entirety, and no agency has authority for assuring coordination of the numerous programs targeted on its objectives. There are serious overlaps, gaps, and conflicts among programs aimed at solving the same problem. Federal agencies, partly in response to budget reduc tions, have made significant advances in shifting operational responsibility for selected programs, involv ing either funding or regulations, to the state and local level. Generally, the response of state and local govern ments has been constructive, although the quality of the response varies by state and region. Several indicators point to progress in floodplain management programs: Participation in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) has increased. Initial identification of flood hazards has been completed for over 18,200 communities now in the program; 16,400 have adopted some kind of management measures. The NFIP no longer subsidizes insurance for new construction in the floodplain. The new technologies and techniques associated with hydrologic forecasting, modeling, and flood warning have substantially improved the quality of these activities. Considerable effort has been made to identify and protect wetlands both within and outside flood plains. Federal agencies have been inconsistent in assimilating the concept of the natural value of floodplains. Accord ingly, their mission statements are inconsistent. Full implementation of natural value protection is less widespread.
8 / Action Agenda Agency competition, duplication, and resulting in efficiency are fostered by the patchwork of federal legislation that establishes multiple authorities and provides diverse directives. Responsibility at the federal level for data collection is scattered among many agencies, so that none take the lead in collecting, analyzing, and reporting the full range of floodplain characteristics and management activities. As a result, it is impossible to accurately appraise the current status of floodplain management across the nation. The many federal programs lack a common focus and create conflicts and limitations that act as impediments to local jurisdictions when implementing floodplain management. States and communities have had varying success in accepting and balancing the disparate elements of the federal programs. Some states and most communities appear to lack the full resources necessary to bring about comprehensive local action without federal support. Considerable infrastructure and many important federal and local structures remain in the floodplain and, although protected to a degree, remain vulnerable to large-scale damage. Little information is available on the actual degree of this vulnerability. While some states and communities have taken a comprehensive approach to floodplain management, others have not. This failure to integrate flood loss reduction, protection of natural values, and federal and community development goals, hinders achievement of floodplain management objectives. In addition, because many problems may encompass larger hydrologic regions and may extend across several local jurisdic tions and perhaps states, development of broad state and interstate plans may be necessary.
Action Agenda / 9 The detailed support for these assessments is to be found in the Status Report or in its lack of necessary information. FACTORS AFFECTING FURTHER ACTIVITY As background for our recommendations, we note significant factors that may be expected to shape the ability of government and private sectors to improve floodplain management. Much public action is constrained by prevailing percep tions, sometimes incorrect, of floods and their consequen ces. Flooding is rare in many areas, and generally is not regarded as an important issue in community policy making. People believe floods will not happen in their community, or that they will not happen again. Although communities may enact some kind of regulation of floodprone land, flood problems in most locales have low salience in the public budget. Local governments misjudge their ability to deal with severe overflows, and, moreover, many people believe the best way to deal with a flood problem when it does become crucial is to commit public funds to construction of a project to store or control floodwaters. These approaches are reflected in budgets and in the interaction of public agencies and private developers. Even when the public is well informed, the effort to manage a flood hazard typically is difficult and compli cated. Floodplain managers have to deal with conflicting technical viewpoints in mapping the precise areas to be inundated by an event defined by a statistical probability, in making the results lucid for lay people, and in identify ing and evaluating the whole set of natural features affected. There are difficulties in approaching a flood problem in the context of an entire drainage area and in anticipating the consequences of a mitigation measure upon an area's economy and welfare. Whenever a large number of agencies, each with its own statutory mission, seek their own ends, the barriers to
10 / Action Agenda smooth implementation of a management effort are considerable. This is clearly the case with floodplain management. Administrative staffs defend their own turf and prefer sole responsibility for a project or program. Floodplain managers at all levels of government have an uneven degree of knowledge about the diverse strate gies and measures (both structural and nonstructural) that constitute floodplain management. Therefore, a variety of disciplines must be called into play, but there is no well established institution to train floodplain managers. Often, lack of familiarity with all of the available techniques biases the investigation and selection of solutions for specific flood problems, hinders the development of comprehensive floodplain management, and impedes balancing of the dual objectives of flood vulnerability reduction and natural values protection. Beyond such direct constraints, there are a number of trends on the national scale that complicate floodplain management and require managers to use flexible methods: Aging publiC infrastructure (bridges, roads, water and sewer lines) will require replacement or upgrading during the coming decades. The strengthening or expansion of existing services in riverine and coastal flood hazard areas will require tough decisions at the local level regarding whether and how further growth in these areas can be managed without increasing flood vulnerability. Existing small-scale development in numerous hazard areas is gradually being replaced by new forms and patterns. In coastal areas, for example, traditional seashore cottages are being replaced by higher density condominiums and commercial structures; whether this can be done while achieving the twin goals of reducing vulnerability to flood and erosion losses and protecting natural values remains to be seen. Some other areas where property is deteriorating due to repeated flood ing are being resettled by low-income people.
Action Agenda / 11 Improved water quality in some river reaches is attract ing more recreational use of adjacent lands. Floodplain management will increasingly be seen as an element in overall environmental protection and improvement. Floodplains will be viewed as integral landscape elements requiring special attention. The increasing scale and sophistication of urban development increase the potential for integrating floodplain considerations in the planning process but also enlarge the possibility for dramatic changes in vulnerability. The recent decades of regulatory efforts, along with urban growth, have resulted in and will continue to encourage dense development adjacent to regulatory boundaries. Such concentration of development may increase vulnerability to catastrophic losses from large floods. Other technolOgical and social trends are provided in the Status Report. The ones noted above are enough to suggest that the national program as a whole must be alert and flexible in dealing with new conditions as they arise. RECOMMENDED ACTION We recommend six groups of actions that should be taken by the Federal Interagency Floodplain Management Task Force or by other federal agencies in close collabora tion with state and local organizations. 1. Integrate flood loss vulnerability and protection of floodplain natural values into broader state and community development and resource management processes. 1.1 To promote integrated planning and management of appropriate hydrologic units, many of which encompass multiple local and state jurisdictions, the Interagency Floodplain Management Task Force should vigorously foster the preparation of state
12 / Action Agenda floodplain management plans involving both public and private interests and, where appropriate, interstate agreements for preparation of basin plans. Such plans should consider and balance measures to preserve and enhance the ecological integrity of hydrologic units with measures to meet social needs. 1.2 Because comprehensive floodplain management programs provide a means for balancing economic development, flood loss reduction, environmental protection, and other community goals, along with means for integrating stormwater quality and quantity objectives with upland and floodplain land uses, sections 1361 and 1315 of the National Flood Insurance Act should be administered so as to require preparation of comprehensive floodplain management plans that complement the two nation al goals as a condition for continued participation in the National Flood Insurance Program. (Several of the members of this review committee regard this requirement as impractical because many local governments lack the resources necessary to meet it.) 1.3 As a further incentive for the preparation of such plans, the Interagency Task Force should draft and recommend an Executive Order requiring that new federal investments, regulations, grants-in-aid, and other floodplain actions be consistent with state and local floodplain management plans insofar as they conform to federal standards. 1.4 To assist the preparation of comprehensive floodplain management plans, the Interagency Task Force should coordinate federal programs and foster model plans, demonstration projects, and research to improve planning methods and techniques.
Action Agenda / 13 2. Improve the data base for floodplain management. 2.1 For jurisdictions expected to experience rapid rates of urban growth in upstream drainage areas, flood plains should be remapped in order to take into account hydrologic conditions associated with full development of the drainage areas under existing land-use plans and policies of the relevant jurisdic tions, with a view to curbing increased storm water runoff. 2.2 A cooperative, jointly funded program should be established by the National Science Foundation and the interested federal agencies to develop methods for mapping, regulating, and identifying natural values in areas with special flood hazards including 1) alluvial fans, 2) fluctuating lake levels, 3) ice jams, 4) moveable stream channels, 5) land subsi dence, 6) storm drainage overflow and backup, and 7) mud flows. The program should also develop methods for measuring the flood storage capacity of river reaches. 2.3 The Interagency Task Force should formulate an accurate, affordable national system for gathering flood loss data that meets the needs of policy makers and floodplain managers. 2.4 The National Science Foundation should consider funding research to examine, in a selected sample of communities, the full benefits and costs, both public and private, of floodplain occupancy and associated floodplain management measures, having due regard for national productivity, impacts on natural values, and the equitable distribution of costs and benefits. 3. Give weight to local conditions. 3.1 Because uniform national prescription standards for the preservation, use, and development of flood-
J 4 / Action Agenda plains and other hazard areas sometimes create the potential for inefficient allocation of resources and for social inequities, the relevant federal agencies should examine the practicability of using performance standards, implemented through local watershed and floodplain management programs, but should not promote any slackening of limits on permissible vulnerability. 3.2 The Federal Insurance Administration should adopt and implement a community rating system to encourage communities to adopt flood hazard mitigation measures particularly suited to their local circwnstance. Such a system should recognize the need to reconcile loss reduction, public safety, and environmental objectives. 4. Minimize conflicts among federal programs. 4.1 The Office of Management and Budget should establish an independent task force to further review the findings of the Status Report and recommend those changes in the federal structure and delegated legislative authority needed to insure execution of a sound Unified National Program for Floodplain Management. 5. Reduce the vulnerability of existing buildings. 5.1 Because the vast majority of buildings and infra structure presently exposed to flood damage will not be protected fully from floodwaters by structur al projects or nonstruchlral programs, other approaches are needed at both federal and state levels. As a first step in addressing that problem, the Interagency Task Force should draft and recommend an Executive Order charging all federal agencies with the preparation of assessments of the vulnerability to flooding of a sample of federal facilities and those state and local facilities con structed wholly or in part with federal aid. The
Action Agenda / 15 report should identify the facilities' expected aver age annual damages, estimate the costs of various protection measures, and extrapolate conclusions on the total federal investment subject to flood damage. The report should be submitted to the President and the Congress with recommendations on appro priate programs to protect federal facilities. 5.2 As an aid to coordination of these activities, the Interagency Task Force should report which agen cies are undertaking nonstructural damage reduc tion activities and identify their funding levels. 5.3 Two approaches, in particular, deserve greater attention as viable damage reduction measures: flood preparedness and retrofitting (floodproofing). The National Science Foundation should fund research on the techniques, benefits, and costs of these approaches in order to identify their utility and impediments to their implementation. 6. Improve professional skills and public education. 6.1 Inasmuch as, among federal, state, and local gov ernment, the lack of personnel trained in the inter disciplinary field of floodplain management is an important constraint to the implementation of comprehensive floodplain management, the Inter agency Task Force should develop training pro grams and conduct regional training, at an afford able rate, for appropriate government personnel. 6.2 Recognizing that floodplain management programs will be implemented more successfully if they are understood and supported by the general public, the Interagency Task Force and its member agencies should continue, expand, and evaluate efforts to inform and educate the public about the nature of flood hazards, the natural values of floodplains, and the various strategies and tools available for com prehensive floodplain management.
NATIONAL REVIEW COMMITTEE Raymond]. Burby, Professor of City and Regional Planning, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Author of Floodplain Land Use Management (Westview, 1985) and Cities Under Water (University of Colorado, 1988); chair, Research Committee, Association of State Floodplain Managers, 1985-89. Gerald E. Galloway, Jr., Professor and Head of Department of Geography, U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York. District Engineer, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1974-77; member, Mississippi River Commission, 1988present. James E. Goddard, Floodplain Management Consultant, Tucson, Arizona. Chief, Tennessee Valley Authority Floodplain Management Program, 1953-66; member, Task Force on Federal Flood Control Policy, 1965-66. James G. Gosselink, Professor of Marine Sciences, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Member, National Wetland Policy Forum, 1988-89. H. James Owen, Principal, Flood Loss Reduction Associates, Palo Alto, California. Head of Comprehensive Planning, Nebraska Soil and Water Conservation Commission, 1960-66; consultant to the Water Resources Council for A Unified National Program for Flood Plain Management, 1975.
Rutherford H. Platt, Professor of Geography and Planning Law, Deparhnent of Geography and Geology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts. Chair, National Research Council Corrunittee on Options to Preserve Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, 1987-88; member, National Research Cow1Cil Committee on Coastal Erosion Hazards, 1988-89. William E. Riebsame, Associate Professor of Geography, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado. Director, Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Center, 1984-1992. John R. Sheaffer, President, Sheaffer & Roland, Inc., Wheaton, illinois. Science advisor to the Secretary of the Army, 1970-72; member, U.s. Section of the Great Lakes Science Advisory Board to the International Joint Corrunission, 1978-81. French Wetmore, President, French & Associates, Ltd., Park Forest, Illinois. Chief, Local Floodplain Programs, Illinois Division of Water Resources, 1976-88; chair, Association of State Floodplain Managers, 1985-87. Gilbert F. White, Gustavson Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Geography, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado. Chair, Task Force on Federal Flood Control Policy, 1965-66. Stanley M. Williams, Assistant General Manager, Santa Clara Valley Water District, San Jose, California. President, National Association of Flood and Stormwater Management Agencies, 1989-1991; local government representative, Corrununity Rating System Task Force, 1987 -present.