Many moons ago, the Federal Government was happily building dams and levees all over the place. Unfortunately, it still flooded in lots of places as development continued without much consideration of floodplains.  Evidence of this can be seen in the 1937 Ohio River Flooding as seen in the image below (this picture came from the National Weather Service website).   It is stated that 70% of Louisville was flooded, along with 90% of Jeffersonville.  It is our epic flood for this region.  Just additional proof that floods are one of the most destructive natural hazards around!

1937 Ohio River Flood, Louisville

I think we should have built a flood wall earlier… #bummer

After a few more years passed, the U.S. Congress created the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) through the National Flood Insurance Act of 1968. This was due to the continued loss of life and property damage taking place.  Plus, Congress knew that once we landed on the moon a year later in 1969, floodplains would be “so yesterday” so they hustled along and got some legislation passed.  Over the years, various revisions have been made to the regulations.

NFIP and the “Three-Legged Stool” 

Yes, they call it the three-legged stool because the program balances three related areas that must support each other:

  • Flood Mapping;
  • Floodplain Management (through regulations such as building codes and zoning);
  • Flood Insurance (for communities that participate in NFIP).

These “stool legs” make the entire program work as it should.

The NFIP and its stellar partners

In coordination with the above mentioned analogy, the federal, state, and local governments each implement a certain part of the program.


  • National program oversight;
  • Risk identification or mapping;
  • Establish development and building standards;
  • Provide affordable insurance coverage.


  • Oversight of State Floodplain program;
  • Establish development and building standards;
  • Provide technical assistance.


  • Adopts and enforces local floodplain ordinance;
  • Issue / deny development and building permits;
  • Inspect developments and buildings.

As a quick note, the U.S. Government is the only entity that makes flood insurance and NFIP coverage available.

A community can tell FEMA to take a hike

If a community decides to not participate in the NFIP, then they will most likely lose flood insurance coverage for everyone in that community.  This means it will be impossible, or ridiculously expensive, to acquire flood insurance. Additionally, that community will have a lack of control over floodplain development, which will only lead to greater property damage and possible loss of life.  Finally, there will be limited or no disaster assistance provided for floods.

As a rule of thumb, 99% of communities do not tell FEMA to get lost, therefore, everyone can buy flood insurance…hooray for more insurance!  If you want to see the status of your community, check out this FEMA website.

The flood finale

Keep in mind that development oversight is local, along with accompanying inspections and permits.  If you have floodplain questions, always start with your local community floodplain representatives. They know their community and can help steer you in the right direction.  With the proper floodplain regs in place, communities can lessen the impact of flooding and help prevent significant loss like this area experienced in 1937.