Cantwell’s Bipartisan Legislation to Protect Communities from Landslides Passes Commerce Committee

April 3, 2019

Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, secured the passage through the committee of bipartisan legislation to help local communities prepare for and respond to landslides and other natural hazards.

Cantwell’s National Landslide Preparedness Act will target key gaps in current science and mapping critical to understanding landslide hazards and risks.

“Five years after the Oso landslide, Washington still vividly remembers how devastating landslides can be,” Senator Cantwell said. “This bill will help save lives, protect communities and property, and improve emergency planning and response by utilizing science and mapping to understand landslide risks.”

The legislation would implement new initiatives critical to help identify and understand landslide risks, protect communities, lives, and property, and improve overall emergency preparedness. Specifically the bill:

  • Expands early warning systems. The bill expands existing early warning systems for post-wildfire landslides in recently-burned areas across the United States. It also requires procedures to be developed for federal monitoring of stormwater drainage in areas with high risk of landslides, in coordination with state, local, and Tribal governments.
  • Creates a new federal program focused specifically on landslide hazards. The bill would establish a National Landslides Hazard Reduction program through the United States Geological Survey (USGS), which would identify risks and hazards from landslides to protect at-risk communities and improve communication and emergency preparedness.
  • Develops new maps to help communities prepare for landslides risk. The bill would direct the USGS to implement a 3D Elevation Program to update and coordinate the collection of enhanced, high-resolution elevation data across the country. Enhanced elevation data is critical for numerous reasons—to help communities plan for and respond to natural hazards; to update the nation’s topographical maps; and to inform a myriad of uses including public safety, national security, planning, infrastructure, transportation, agriculture, and natural resource management.
  • Authorizes new landslide-related grant programs. The bill authorizes new programs to provide funding to state, territorial, local, and Tribal governments for landslide research, mapping, assessment, and data collection.
  • Establishes committees to better deal with landslide risks. The bill establishes an advisory committee on landslides and creates an interagency committee to coordinate better landslide responses from the multiple government agencies with jurisdiction.

Pacific Northwest prone to landslides

The Pacific Northwest is susceptible to landslides due to its heavy rainfall, unique geology, and the dynamic topography of the region. In March 2014, one of the largest landslides in Washington state history occurred near Oso, causing 43 deaths and the destruction of 49 homes and structures. The direct costs of the Oso landslide totaled more than $80 million.

A recent study on the Olympic Peninsula anticipates that there will be a 7-11 percent increase in the land that is highly vulnerable to landslides. The researchers say their findings are applicable to the Cascade Mountain Range area as well.

Last year, at a hearing examining the importance of improving natural hazard monitoring and preparedness systems in the U.S., Senator Cantwell talked about the risk of a slow-developing landslide at Rattlesnake Ridge outside of Yakima, Washington.

Throughout the United States, according to U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and National Research Council, each year landslides claim 25-50 lives and cause between $1.6 and $3.2 billion in damage.

And yet, despite the loss of life and property cause by landslides, the federal government currently has no specific funding to mitigate risks from landslides. Furthermore, the Trump administration has proposed cutting $165 million in funding from the USGS, which would cut funding for critical surveys, research, and investigations.

In addition to Cantwell, the bipartisan legislation is also co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Dan Sullivan (R-AK). A companion bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Representative Suzan DelBene (D-WA 1).

The legislation now moves on to the full Senate for consideration.