Welcome to the Flood Zone is a nationally distributed resource for those interested in flood zone issues, land surveying, real estate, history, and educational opportunities. This newsletter has been proudly featured by the Association of State Floodplain Managers, the National Society of Professional Surveyors, and the Maine and New Hampshire Floodplain Management Programs. Please feel free to share with your friends and colleagues!

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In this Issue of Welcome to the Flood Zone:

Message from Jim
In the News: "Feds Issue Final Rule Changes on Nation's Flood Insurance Program" and "FEMA's Panel of Flood Experts Unable to Meet as Losses Mount"
NFIP Guidance: Coastal Barrier Resources System - 2019 Changes
Resources: "What is LiDAR?", "Using LiDAR for Map Amendments" and "How Stormwater Affects Your Rivers"
Real Estate Corner: "3 Ways Real Estate Developers Can Stay Ahead of Climate Change" and "How Sea Level Rise, Flooding Are Affecting N.H.'s Seacoast Real Estate"
History Corner: "The Raging Blizzard That Killed Mr. and Mrs. Tarbox in 1819"

Banner Image: Melting ice during a spring thaw. From article entitled "Prevention Against Flood in the Home"


Message from Jim

Having stayed very active as a flood consultant over the last ten years, I have seen positive changes in the National Flood Insurance Program intended to make the program stronger, such as the implementation of program reform and the updating of flood maps. Unfortunately, I also see many disconnects which continue to make forward progress a challenge, many of which have existed for a long time. With a greater understanding of the issues, and an impetus for social change, these challenges don’t have to remain large obstacles.

For example, subsidized flood insurance rates, aside from not providing the program with a financially-appropriate premium to cover the level of actual risk a dwelling has, also provide a false sense of security for the homeowner. Lower premiums create a perception of lower risk which can increase buyer purchasing power, a very dangerous combination allowing the illusion of lower risk to be passed from one property owner to another. The Biggert-Waters Reform Act of 2012 tried to eliminate these subsidies which created a major affordability concern, so portions of the act were undone or adjusted two years later, but there is another way to support the reform process: adjust real estate value and educate consumers through enhanced property disclosure. This would appropriately expose the perils of subsidies for program stability and personal awareness of the risk associated with a property. Real estate value must be adjusted accordingly to include flood risk or a flood insurance premium for the program to move forward in a positive manner.

Kudos to California and their real estate disclosure, which states: “The maps on which these disclosures are based estimate where natural hazards exist. They are not definite indicators of whether or not a property will be affected by a natural disaster”. This statement is clear: flood maps do not identify actual flood risk. Florida’s disclosure has an entire section on flood, which stimulates important dialogue about the risk associated with every property. Using detailed disclosure to educate consumers on the limitations of flood maps, as well as the potential for actual flood risk, is needed in every state.

Another challenge is that much of the existing development and infrastructure in our nation hasn’t been adequately designed to contend with today’s extreme flooding events. Pluvial flooding, or ponding, occurs when an extremely heavy downpour of rain saturates drainage systems and excess water cannot be absorbed. This is often referred to as Urban Flooding in developed areas, and was again recently recognized on a large scale when Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston, Texas area in late summer of 2017. Thankfully, green infrastructure which incorporates flood mitigation into its design is a growing trend, but there’s another issue going on here – development is being allowed in high risk areas because the flood maps indicate they have a lower risk. Communities must evaluate flood risk at a higher level. Flood maps should not be the only flood risk evaluation tool used.

Much blame is given to the maps being very outdated, but this escape hatch of non-accountability is too clean for those impacted, as well as the observers. Of course, updating the maps would be beneficial, but filling wetlands and increasing impervious surface in areas intended to collect water, combined with minimal regulation, often will be a strong recipe for hardship. Due to the extensive cost and time needed to update flood maps, the program will always have difficulty keeping up with infrastructure improvements, designed well or not. We need to remember that these maps are primarily intended to be used as guides to evaluate risk for federally backed or insured mortgage loans and to regulate development in a depicted floodplain. Assuming a flood map accurately depicts actual flood risk for development planning is extremely dangerous.

Changing behavior through education and real estate disclosure will move society away from program misunderstandings. Subsidized premiums or blaming the flood maps when damage occurs both need to be removed from our decisions. We may not be able to control the weather, but individual accountability, mitigation, and smart growth are options available to us, and what is truly needed to address program obstacles.


In the News

Feds Issue Final Rule Changes on Nation's Flood Insurance Program

By: Talk Business & Politics staff, Talkbusiness.net, February 19, 2019

Five federal regulatory agencies have issued a joint final rule to implement provisions of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 requiring regulated institutions to accept certain private flood insurance policies in addition to National Flood Insurance Program policies.
The rule, which takes effect July 1, 2019, implements the Biggert-Waters Act requirement that regulated lending institutions accept private flood insurance policies that satisfy criteria specified in the Act.

Read more!


FEMA's Panel of Flood Experts Unable to Meet as Losses Mount

By Daniel Cusick, E&E News, February 19, 2019

"A federal advisory panel that's supposed to provide scientific information to the National Flood Insurance Program is entering a five-month work stoppage, even as property losses mount against the backdrop of severe inundation related to climate change.

The Technical Mapping Advisory Council, or TMAC, is composed of 20 experts tapped by the FEMA administrator to answer complex questions about flood dynamics and flood risk in areas across the United States that are experiencing higher temperatures."

Due to a stalemate in Congress, some current panel members' appointments have expired, new appointments have not yet been approved, a quorum cannot be reached, and the 2018 report, which describes TMAC's findings on how to effectively update and improve flood maps, cannot be completed.

Read more!

Click here to learn more about TMAC and to view past annual reports.


Cape Lookout barrier island, North Carolina. Credit: USFWS

NFIP Guidance

Coastal Barrier Resources System Guidance for 2019

The Maine Floodplain Management Program has prepared a helpful document offering guidance on some of the recent changes to the Coastal Barrier Resources System, as administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. CBRS areas are ecologically valuable and prone to storm damage, so development is highly restricted. Historically, these areas have been shown on FEMA's Flood Insurance Rate Maps. As of February, 2019, they will no longer be shown on printed maps.

Click here to download the Maine Floodplain Management Program's guidance document!

Also check out "FEMA Fact Sheet: Coastal Barrier Resources System: Changes to Flood Insurance Rate Maps"



What is LiDAR?

LiDAR, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging, is a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure ranges (variable distances) to the Earth. These light pulses, combined with other data recorded by the airborne system, generate precise, three-dimensional information about the shape of the Earth and its surface characteristics. LiDAR data supports activities such as inundation and storm surge modeling, hydrodynamic modeling, shoreline mapping, emergency response, hydrographic surveying, and coastal vulnerability analysis.

Learn more!

lidar loma

Using LiDAR for Map Amendments

LiDAR data can replace the requirement to submit elevation information certified by a licensed land surveyor or professional engineer, which can create a cost savings for property owners. However, LiDAR data may be less accurate than certified elevations and may not capture the full risk for the building or lot.
While the technology has many benefits in floodplain management, there are several circumstances when this type of data may not be used.

Learn more!


Stormwater flooding a street in Washington, D.C.

How Stormwater Affects Your Rivers

Rivers are dependent on their surrounding lands (known as the watershed) for a consistent supply of clean water. Altering a watershed does many things; one of the most significant is to alter the way stormwater soaks into the ground or flows to the local river.

When managed properly, this water is a valuable resource. However, when stormwater is managed like a waste product, it exacerbates flooding and becomes contaminated with pollutants.

Learn more!

for sale

Real Estate Corner

3 Ways Real Estate Developers Can Stay Ahead of Climate Change

By David Wigder, GreenBiz, January 4, 2018

The value of global real estate is enormous, topping $217 trillion, of which 75 percent is residential homes and property. Given this scale, it is hard to overstate the importance of real estate to people’s personal fortunes. For many, it is their largest single investment.

Residential real estate markets are increasingly vulnerable to climate change. People are beginning to recognize this new reality — and markets are starting to reflect the change.

This shift present opportunities and risks for developers, lenders and investors that do business in this market. Understanding these dynamics will help them better navigate the challenges and capitalize on the opportunities.

Read more!

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Flooding and ice in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Image credit: Hampton Beach Village District

How Sea Level Rise, Flooding Are Affecting N.H.'s Seacoast Real Estate

By Rachel Cohen & Peter Biello, New Hampshire Public Radio, January 29, 2019

As unfortunate as it is that sea level rise and flooding are affecting valuable coastal real estate, we are relieved that people are having a conversation about it. This article features an interview between John Rice, a real estate broker in Rye, NH who serves as the Chief Statistician on the Seacoast Board of Realtors, and NHPR's Peter Biello.

Biello: What do you tell clients about potential flooding in areas where they're looking to buy? Do you have any obligation to warn them about the potential risks of buying in a flood-prone area?

Rice: Absolutely. It's critical. I can't predict what the water's going to do or when the big one is coming, but I can say ‘Look if you are in a flood zone, you need to check out the cost of insurance.’ I think that's a standard obligation of a real estate broker.

Read more!


Neighbor to the Tarbox family, Thomas Shaw, wrote the above poem. Shaw wrote folksy poems he called mournful ballads and sold them on broadside sheets in Portland and the other Cumberland County towns.

History Corner

The Raging Blizzard That Killed Mr. and Mrs. Tarbox in 1819

The New England Historical Society shares the story of a local tragedy that occurred 200 years ago this March.

"Samuel Tarbox and his wife are still remembered nearly 200 years after they froze to death in a fearful March snowstorm. To this day, some people in the Sebago Lakes Region refer to a fierce snowstorm as a ‘real tarboxer.’"

Read more!


March Flood Funny


Image by Walt Handelsman, The Advocate

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