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Neighbors should know their flood risk

As emergency responders, our job is to prepare for the unknown — it's about helping neighbors stay safe and protected through times of fire, flood, severe weather and anything that puts lives and property in harm's way.

Every spring communities across Wisconsin are hit by major flooding. In fact, flooding is the fastest growing and the costliest natural disaster in Eau Claire County. In the last six years, Wisconsin has seen five 100-year floods and one 1,000-year flood. We have over 149,000 people in Wisconsin living with a 1 percent annual flood risk. Additionally, with rains becoming increasingly more severe, vigilance is key to ensure communities have the resources and policies to respond to a growing problem.

In emergency management, we are in the business of resiliency. From county to county across Wisconsin, we pride ourselves in doing all that it takes to make sure our residents are protected from flood events, warned ahead of time and receive help with cleanup and rebuilding if a natural disaster does hit.

However, effective emergency management takes a full community effort, from local government planning and land use, to nonprofit volunteers creating natural habitat and living shorelines that can buffer residential areas from flooding river, to everything in between. Homeowners also play a part by knowing their flood risk so they can make informed decisions about whether to purchase a property if it's had flooding, to knowing how to flood-proof and prepare for future flooding.

In Wisconsin, if you are purchasing a home, state law dictates that you are warned of past flooding, flood damage and location in a floodplain. These kinds of disclosures are important because they allow people make informed decisions as they buy their home — often the biggest purchase of their lifetime.

Not all states have flood disclosure laws for homebuyers, so in many areas of our country people may be unknowingly moving into a home that could be unsafe. However, with the National Flood Insurance Program now $25 billion in debt, and one-third of all payouts going to properties that have flooded two times or more, Congress is looking at common sense solutions to address this issue.

The proposal of a nationwide flood disclosure law for homebuyers is a good one. It would look similar to current lead paint disclosure laws, which happen 10 days before closing, so potential buyers could back out if they didn't want to risk living in home with lead paint. This is a law that has been working in Wisconsin and it would serve people well across the country.

Keep in mind, when floodwaters rise it not only puts our neighbors and their homes at risk, but first responders and emergency personnel in our community must also risk their lives to keep people safe. For this reason, the mitigation of flooding risks is a must.

As Congress is working on supplementals to pay for Harvey and Irma recovery and reauthorizing the National Flood Insurance Program in coming weeks, members of Congress should step forward and provide leadership to make sure that disclosure laws are included in the bill. It seems only right to make sure people have all the information they need to stay safe when floodwaters rise.

Tyler Esh is the emergency management coordinator for Eau Claire County, Wis.