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Flood Risk Management

Black and white photo of one of DC's bridges across the Potomac

Flood Risk Management in the District

Federal law requires property owners in high-risk flood zones to purchase flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) as a condition of federally insured financing. DOEE coordinates the District's participation in the NFIP, and works with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and District agencies on implementation. DOEE's flood risk management program has regulatory authority and also provides technical assistance to District property owners and other interested parties on issues such as the NFIP, floodplain management, flood insurance, floodplain development requirements, floodplain mapping, flood mitigation and coordination among federal and District agencies.

Flood History in Washington, DC

The District of Columbia has a long history of flooding, dating back to the 19th century. There are three types of flooding that the District faces:  riverine, tidal/coastal storm surge, and interior. Major riverine floods occurred in 1936, 1937, 1942 and two in 1996.  Major tidal floods occurred in 1933, 1972 (Agnes), and 2003 (Isabel). The most notable interior flooding events were in June 2006 in Federal Triangle and 2012 in Bloomingdale and LeDroit Park neighborhoods.
Pennsylvania Avenue NW in 1889 & Navy Yard in 1936Constitution Avenue NW in 2006 & Bloomingdale in 2012
National Flood Insurance Program

The National Flood Insurance Program is a federal program managed by FEMA with the goal of reducing future flood damages.  This program includes flood insurance, floodplain management and flood hazard mapping. Congress created the NFIP in 1968, with the passing of the National Flood Insurance Act, to address the fact that homeowners’ insurance does not cover flood damage and to offer an alternative to federal disaster relief programs.

Nearly 20,000 communities across the nation (including the District) now participate in NFIP through the adoption and enforcement of floodplain management regulations. In return, NFIP makes federally backed flood insurance available to homeowners, renters, and business owners in these communities, regardless of their flood zone risk level. NFIP also establishes building standards that help prevent flood damage, and develops maps of the nation's flood plains to create awareness of flood hazards and provide data needed to rate new construction for flood insurance.

Flood damage is decreased by almost $1 billion a year through community enforcement of floodplain management requirements and property owners who purchase flood insurance. In addition, buildings that are constructed in agreement with NFIP building standards experience about 80% less damage annually than those that do not meet the standards.

Regulating Development 

A primary role of DOEE within the District’s Flood Risk Management is to regulate development in floodplains in order to protect life safety and property, to protect the important environmental functions of floodplains, and to ensure the District’s continued eligibility for federally subsidized flood insurance and disaster relief through participation in the NFIP. DOEE regulates development in the floodplain by requiring building permits for new construction or development in the designated floodplains. All development projects in the floodplains must comply with the Title 12 DCMR - DC Construction Codes and Title 20 DCMR Chapter 31 - Flood Hazard Rules. For more information, visit Floodplain Development Permits.

DOEE is also planning to update the Flood Hazard Rules. See the proposed changes and progress.

DC Silver Jackets Team

DOEE is a co-leader and founding member of the District of Columbia Silver Jackets Team. This interagency team is comprised of members from federal, District of Columbia and regional agencies, as well as academia. The DC Silver Jackets Team leverages resources to identify and implement comprehensive, resilient, and sustainable solutions to reduce flood risk around the District and to assist local communities. For more information, please visit Silverjackets.

Blue Green Infrastructure and Cloudburst Management

DOEE is working with sister agencies to identify opportunities to use blue-green infrastructure and cloudburst management strategies that will reduce the city’s risk of flooding from intense rainfall. The report below details the concepts of this new approach and the results of a workshop held in March 2019 where District agencies and stakeholders gathered to learn more about the concepts and explore how they could be applied in the District. Read the report >>

Watts Branch Neighborhoods Flood Risk Management

DOEE is working with sister agencies to better understand flood risk in the Watts Branch area, a neighborhood where many homes are in a floodplain and at risk of flooding. Read more>>

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