Many U.S. communities, including Everson, are struggling to catch up as climate change intensifies flood risk.
Federal rainfall mapping for Washington State, which underpins decisions about infrastructure and flood risk, dates back to 1973.
In Whatcom County, where Everson is located, data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency suggests nearly 5,900 properties are in areas at particular flood risk, indicating they have a 1% chance to be flooded every year and that carrying flood insurance is almost always mandatory, Roberts said. The First Street Foundation, which incorporates climate data into a similar analysis, finds that some 14,500 properties there are at risk.
“The definition of the 100-year flood hasn’t kept up with the changes we’re seeing, and at this point it’s doing more harm than good because it’s more confusing to people,” Roberts said, referring to a common benchmark used to determine who needs insurance.
Floods and Housing
Flooding caused by global warming has turned Everson’s most pressing issue – housing – into an emergency.
Prior to the floods, Everson, like many American communities, was mired in a housing crisis. The pandemic only fueled a sizzling market as townspeople sought homes near Everson – many seeking space and the air of the Cascade Mountain.
The developers couldn’t keep up with the torrid growth. Some Everson residents couldn’t keep up with the price spike. In recent years, the local housing authority has limited who can put on its waiting lists for public and subsidized housing, as these queues have stretched over several years.
Whatcom County had a 1% vacancy rate for rental apartments before the flood, according to the Washington Center for Real Estate Research. Meanwhile, home prices in the county soared about 23% between the first quarter of 2021 and the same period of 2022. Then floodwaters forced 300 families from their homes and into this dismal rental market. It also led to the closure of low-income apartments in Everson, a recognition that parts of this community could not be restored, even though they had been there for decades.
“The housing crisis – it just makes the effects of the flood worse,” Perry said. “I don’t think we’ll ever catch up.”
For Perry, the part-time mayor of Everson, the floodwaters have muddied almost everything in his life.
Perry’s grandson was trapped by the floodwaters and asked Brevik to pick him up. Fourteen properties that Perry’s family manages in nearby Sumas were flooded, forcing tenants out and requiring repairs.
After the waters receded, Perry began to take on the dual, and sometimes duel, responsibilities of housing Everson residents and leading the town’s recovery while seeking permanent solutions to redirect future floodwaters or ward off people out of their way.
On an early May visit to Everson, many homes remained gutted, with sandbags and flood debris still strewn a few feet away. Residents continued to live in hotels, in trailers outside their unlivable homes, or with friends elsewhere. Some were on the verge of homelessness.