SACRAMENTO — Two congressmen who serve the farming-rich Sacramento Valley have proposed a bipartisan bill that would ease restrictions on building agricultural structures in floodplains.
H.R. 3315 by Democrat John Garamendi and Republican Doug LaMalfa would exempt structures like barns, sheds and silos from new Federal Emergency Management Agency requirements that effectively prohibit construction in areas prone to flooding.
The regulations, which apply to new and refurbished buildings, require the structures to be raised above any potential flood lines, which growers say is too costly and impractical for such things as equipment sheds and rice dryers.
The FEMA requirements could put many farmers in Northern California and across the country out of business, Garamendi asserts.
“This bipartisan legislation is critical to keeping rural America strong,” said Rayne Pegg, the California Farm Bureau Federation’s Federal Policy Division manager.
Pegg noted that much of California’s rice and fruit is grown in floodplain areas, and the regulations would leave farmers unable to make improvements to their farms.
“Rural businesses and schools, often the lifeblood of rural communities, would have difficulty rebuilding after a fire or disaster,” she said in an email.
The bill comes as Garamendi, whose district includes 200 miles of the Sacramento River, has called for a delay of impending flood insurance rate hikes caused by new flood risk maps produced by FEMA.
Garamendi last year proposed a bill last year that would have enabled farmers to obtain subsidized flood insurance on existing and new agricultural structures in areas protected by weakened levees, but that bill died in committee.
Garamendi said this bill is an improvement on the last one, as a result of having worked on the issue for a year. He said he is “optimistic” this one will be successful.
“One cannot prejudge Congress,” he told the Capital Press in an email. “The strong bipartisan support for the Water Resources Reform and Development Act is an example of how Congress can still come together for the good of the country.”
Two weeks ago, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the water reform bill, which seeks to streamline environmental regulations, put hard deadlines on studies and cap project review costs.
Garamendi and LaMalfa worked together this summer to urge the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to speed up permits for a Feather River levee improvement project, part of which was approved in July.
Rep. John Garamendi: http://garamendi.house.gov
Rep. Doug LaMalfa: http://lamalfa.house.gov