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Surrounded by water, few in King County have flood insurance

A levee in Auburn, part of the system that protects the Green River Valley from floods.
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols
A levee in Auburn, part of the system that protects the Green River Valley from floods.

As the nation watches tropical storm Harvey devastate the U.S. Gulf Coast, officials in King County are taking note of the recovery efforts.

The county has multiple floodplain areas and is no stranger to floods. The lower Snoqualmie River swells into local farmlands most years. Flooding in the 1990s was strong enough to damage levees on the Tolt River and the Upper Snoqualmie.

King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn also chairs the county's Flood Control District.

Dunn: "We have some very significant reservoirs in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains and a substantial number of river systems that run right through our populated areas. So we need to be prepared for major flooding. It's happened in the past, it can happen again."

Dunn is spearheading legislation to review the flood response plan and evacuation routes.

He says Kent, Renton and the greater Green River Valley are at particular risk if there's a major rain event.

Dunn: "That's the second largest industrial and manufacturing center on the West Coast of the United States. If we were to have a major flood, or a breach of the levee, you'd see what you're seeing in Houston, you'd see there [in the Green River Valley]. And so, that's one-eighth of the state's economy, we want to make sure we're protecting it as best we can."

Dunn encourages residents to buy flood insurance. A King County report from 2013 shows that 32,000 residents live in the path of a flood-plain. However, only about 7,000 households have flood insurance.

The National Flood Insurance Program helps homeowners obtain coverage. Washington's Insurance Commissioner, Mike Kreidler, is an advocate of the program and says it works thanks to federal subsidies. Kreidler says he wants Congress to keep funding it.

Kreidler: "They need to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program. I've been very supportive in seeing that done, I think the federal government is trying to get away from that."

The federal program will expire Sept. 30 if it's not renewed.