How Escambia Can Pay for Flood Projects

Following the money to find easy flood fixes.

One misplaced priority: All these roads won’t matter if they’re underwater 



Just $1 million of Escambia’s $30 million public works budget will go to flood prevention this year — while road maintenance gets nearly $10 million.


The Takeaway

The county’s job is to keep an eye on the long game and invest in solutions that prevent flood damage before it happens. County officials just aren’t doing it. 

Why Roads:

It’s easy to fund what you see every day and forget the drainpipes under your feet. But pipes clogged from years of neglect won’t save anyone’s home in a sudden downpour.

If money talks, the county’s shouts a clear message: Flood prevention is not a priority.

  • Since then, the county has only raised $40 million and finished less than 5% of the planned projects.

🔧The Fix

The same revenue streams that let county officials pour millions into roads could offer a similar boost to flood prevention. And yet…

  • They’ve let a massive backlog of stormwater maintenance pile up, underfunding and understaffing the team responsible for catching up.

  • 19 of 179 staff in Public Works are in the flood division vs. nearly 100 in road maintenance.

  • Only 23% of revenues from a local sales tax intended to fund public infrastructure go to flood protection.

Snapshot: “There was nothing we could do…”



Hurricane Sally hammered Escambia County with over $300 million in property damage, forcing hundreds of residents out of their homes.



One family pleaded for the county’s help after a stormwater pond overflowed, flooding their home with 2 feet of water:

  • “This was supposed to be the house our 8-year old daughter grows up in, and we retire in,” the family said in an email to the county, according to Pensacola News Journal.

  • “There was nothing we could do… We had to leave in the middle of the night in hurricane-force winds and flooding roads... We need help!"

That’s just a taste of over 1,500 emails the county got in Sally’s wake. Months later, many residents were still waiting on repairs, unable to move back home.


The short-term property repairs that get funded…



Escambia got one of the biggest payouts of the $270 million in federal aid sent to Florida in response to Hurricane Sally — but it’s almost all earmarked for property damage repair.



If the county had fought for that sort of money before disaster struck, people wouldn’t need help rebuilding their homes in the first place. 

  • Instead, Escambia is failing to build new drainage infrastructure, let alone maintain what it already has.

  • That locks Escambia into a cycle of repeatedly fixing damage from the last flood, instead of protecting neighborhoods against the next one.


The Kicker

$1 of infrastructure investment could save up to $6 in repairs after the storm, according to a 2018 study.

…And the low-hanging flood fixes that don’t



The Lake Charlene subdivision has flooded for years. After Hurricane Sally, residents finally got HOA and county approval to end the cycle, using a $2 million FEMA grant.

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The Takeaway

For most of these, the county can qualify for state and federal funds by coming up with a small downpayment first. Just $1 million can unlock $60 million in matching funds — but county officials put their efforts elsewhere.

The plan will make it easier for officials to lower the level of the lake, taking hundreds of homes out of harm’s way — a dent in the county’s total backlog, but a gamechanger for this neighborhood.

Zoom out:

There are hundreds more unfunded drainage projects across every district in the county, many as feasible and affordable as Lake Charlene’s.

  • Take Mariners Village, where a proposed $3.4 million project from the 2015 agenda would restore the nearby stream and wetland and construct a stormwater pond.

🔍 See the projects left for each district and what funding them could do for Escambia.



How to make home buyouts work



Many Escambia homes were built before we knew where it would flood, or where outdated FEMA maps said it shouldn’t flood and got it wrong.


Zoom In

Residents of Escambia’s Bristol Park neighborhood are divided on buyouts, but they’ve also been left to figure out what to do for themselves. What they really need is for the county to step up and lead.

Buyouts” let owners sell their homes to the government, preventing repeated repairs and the need to find a buyer for a flood-prone home.

The Problem

Buyouts today are slow, inflexible and reactive.

  • Most take over 5 years to get funded.

  • To qualify for federal money, a house must appear in a floodplain as defined by FEMA’s bad maps, excluding hundreds of thousands of homes we now know are at risk.

  • Almost all federal funding comes after the flood, forcing homeowners to live through a disaster before they can get help.

🔧The Fix 

County officials could fund buyouts directly, moving faster and helping homeowners relocate before the next flood, not after.

What Florida Residents Want



Floridians want better flood protection, according to a poll conducted by Flood Defenders.



  • 52% expressed concerns about flooding 

  • 68% want their local city and county government to act

  • 55% want comprehensive policy or legislation

  • 45%, a plurality, said flooding is a problem and not enough action is being taken

We are Flood Defenders

A non-profit amplifying the power of our members' voices to demand and receive better flood protection