President signs bill to boost mapping of landslide hazards

The bill appropriates $40 million annually for 3D mapping and disaster preparation.

OSO — President Trump signed into law Tuesday a new national program to increase the mapping of landslide risks in hopes of anticipating disasters like the deadly Oso mudslide that struck nearly seven years ago.

The legislation, passed by Congress Dec. 16, dramatically increases the use of a laser-surveying technology known as lidar to map, identify and track potential landslide areas. Lidar stands for light detection and ranging.

U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, whose district includes Oso, and U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell sponsored the bill.

“The National Landslide Preparedness Act will help us better prepare for and mitigate future landslides by collecting invaluable data that will protect lives and property,” DelBene said in a statement to The Daily Herald. “Washington knows all too well the devastation these events can have in our community. We cannot change the past, but this law will honor the memory of those we lost in Oso.”

The bill marks a shift in the federal government’s consideration of landslides as a secondary risk to earthquakes, floods and volcano eruptions.

In the past, landslides were considered an after-effect of other natural disasters, said Nick Martin, a spokesperson for DelBene.

Now the U.S. Geological Survey will treat landslides as a primary natural disaster.

The bill funds a program specifically for landslides, with a dedicated staff.

They’ll get $40 million annually for a 3D mapping program, but that money is spread throughout the whole nation.

State governments, local communities and tribes are responsible for initiating any mapping of their areas. The new federal program will centralize that data collection.

“With programs like this, communities across the country will be able to understand where you could see shifts in the ground and be able to better predict where ground has a greater likelihood of a slide,” Martin said.

The federal program will complement efforts by Washington’s Department of Natural Resources and counterpart agencies in other states.

DNR has made progress mapping and analyzing data about the glacially formed landscape in the upper half of the state, including Snohomish County. The work relies heavily on aerial maps created using lidar.

Each year, landslides kill 25 to 50 people and cause between $1.6 billion and $3.2 billion in damage in the United States.

The 2014 Oso mudslide west of Darrington, which destroyed 49 homes and took 43 lives, along with a recent landslide in Haines, Alaska, played a large role in pushing the legislation’s passage.

DelBene first introduced the bill in 2016 and has reintroduced it every session since.

“The next natural disaster should not become our next national tragedy,” Delbene said.

Julia-Grace Sanders: 425-339-3439; jgsanders@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @sanders_julia.

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