How Views of “Dubious” Science Affect Public Perception of Floodplain Management along the Yellowstone River, Montana, USA

Authors: Jamie McEvoy*, Montana State University, Elizabeth Shanahan, Montana State University, Nicolas Bergmann, Montana State University, Eric Raile, Montana State University, Clemente Izurieta, Montana State University, Richard Ready, Montana State University, Ann Marie Reinhold, Montana State University, Geoffry Poole, Montana State University, Henry King, Montana State University
Topics: Water Resources and Hydrology, Cultural and Political Ecology, Hazards, Risks, and Disasters
Keywords: water resources, floodplain management, risk perception, flood
Session Type: Poster
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Lincoln 2, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


As part of the U.S. National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) creates Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMS) which delineate floodplain boundaries and flood zones. In Miles City and Glendive, two communities along the Yellowstone River, updated FIRMs resulted in a substantive expansion of the designated 100-year floodplain. Property owners within the newly designated 100-year floodplain are now subject to flood insurance and building restrictions. Interviews with 31 residents in Miles City and Glendive reveal skepticism about the scientific integrity and political nature of the FIRMs. The reasons for residents’ skepticism are four-fold. First, interviewees asserted that FEMA came “knocking on small town doors” to “fill their coffers” after Hurricane Katrina. Second, interviewees pointed to “exemptions” in the FIRMs around oil refineries along the river and certain downtown buildings as further evidence of the political nature of FIRMs. Third, interviewees described inconsistent enforcement of floodplain regulations and changes in levee standards as examples of subjectivity and ineptitude in floodplain management. Fourth, interviewees observed epistemological differences in the definition and measurement of a “flood” by different entities (e.g., FEMA, insurance companies, scientists, and residents). Other comments cast doubt on a range of scientific aspects related to floodplain management (e.g., can water gages be trusted? Why don’t FIRMs account for elevation? Why would a FEMA report mention “ice jams” in July?). We argue that these views of “dubious” science are barriers to getting residents to accept floodplain management and adopt flood preparedness strategies.

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