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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
Announcements: The NFIP Has Been Extended - Again!
In the News: "We Can Work It Out: Avoiding Disasters" and "It's Time to Ditch the Concept of '100-Year Floods'"
Resources: "What Flood Maps Mean For You", "Flood Risk and the U.S. Housing Market", and "USGS New England Water Science Center - Maine"
NFIP Terminology: Encroachments
Flood Fact: Wetlands in the U.S. save more than $30 billion in annual flood damage repair costs
Real Estate Corner: "Climate Change Insurance: Buy Land Somewhere Else"

Banner Image: Ed Lawrence, one of our surveyors here at Nadeau Land Surveys, is set up on icy Kezar Lake performing an Elevation Certificate. Don't worry, the ice skaters proved it was safe!


Message from Jim

As flooding continues to increase in all corners of our country, the measuring stick often used to determine personal flood risk is the concept of the “100-year flood”. It can be very misleading -- if your property is in the 100-year flood zone, risk is high, and outside, risk is low, but we all know it is not that simple because Mother Nature does not read lines on a map. We also know the term “100-year flood” is not particularly helpful in regards to risk perception as it can give a false sense of security that such a large flooding event is only a once in a lifetime occurrence. Even if the term “100-year flood” indicated a semblance of accuracy or guidance in the past, large flooding events now occur more frequently due to our changing climate, resulting in increased damages due to expanded development and infrastructure. Based on NFIP annual payouts, the six most costly years have occurred since 2005 (FEMA, 2018).

The National Flood Insurance Program and many flood experts are working to replace “100-year flood” with a more statistically driven phrase, “a flood having a 1% annual chance of being equaled or exceeded”. But is this any more helpful? Using a numerical percentage based on probability still fails to drive home the reality that flood risk is increasing as it does not personalize flood risk. One could argue neither “100-year flood” nor “1% annual chance” should be used since they have minimal, if any, effect on behaviors needed to improve mitigation decisions.

For example, which phrase best gains the attention of the public pertaining to how often a large flooding event will occur?

a. every 100 years
b. 1% annual chance of occurring
c. 26% chance of occurring during a 30 year loan

A – is a horribly inaccurate concept, but unfortunately very common. It tells people “I don’t have to worry; it probably won’t happen in my lifetime”. It is an attention-grabbing phrase because it is used so often, and it is very dangerous because it allows people the convenience of not having to change behavior on a personal level.
B – offers a clearer understanding of flood risk probability, but only brings it into perception as an annual risk; flood risk should be understood as a daily risk in order for communities to be more adequately prepared. Changing behavior on a personal level also does not become a priority because one percent of anything is typically perceived as insignificant.
C - provides an improved evaluation of risk because it establishes an understood time frame (the life of a loan), which can have a practical impact on personal behavior. Twenty-six percent, even over 30 years, feels more severe than 1% in any year, not only because of the larger percentage, but because now it also brings personal security and assets into thought.

Flood risk perception stumbles in many ways due to society being cognitively lazy. We dislike changing our knowledge schema due to personal paradigms and biases and are generally fine with believing “it will never happen to me". Statistics are intended to guide each of us in a specific direction, so creating flood risk statistics which are factual and attached to current conditions must become commonplace. Updating maps and strengthening regulations is vital for program success, but perception of flood risk must be changed now to allow people to truly adapt to the changing world. Using more relatable, short-term scenarios, rather than abstract statistics or long-term predictions, will greatly benefit public perception of flood risk.



Once again, the National Flood Insurance Program has been given a short-term extension. It came down to the wire so no reforms have been passed but even amidst the government shutdown, the program has been extended until May 31, 2019.


In the News

We Can Work It Out: Avoiding Disasters

By: Amir AghaKouchak and Ben van der Pluijm, Eos, September 7, 2018

What does it take to prevent natural hazards from becoming human disasters? Addressing this question requires a critical look at the societal response to extreme events. A society that experiences frequent earthquakes typically responds by improving regulations and building codes to enhance its resilience against future quakes.

However, a moderate event in an unexpected region or unprepared society can also turn into a disaster without proper preparation. Understanding critical thresholds are fundamental to prevent natural hazards from becoming human disasters. This leads to another important question: How can the scientific community inform societies about critical thresholds and strengthen their resilience against natural hazards?

Read more!

It's Time to Ditch the Concept of '100-Year Floods'

By Maggie Koerth-Baker, FiveThirtyEight, August 30, 2017

This article isn't recent news, but its content bears recognition today. We have shared many resources about the confusion surrounding the term "100-year flood". This one brings to light many of the issues that scientists, floodplain managers, and now thankfully, the media, are trying to resolve. The accuracy of FEMA's Flood Insurance Rate Maps is vital to the success of the program, yet a lack of funding among other reasons, hinders their ability to be updated at an effective rate. But even so, the maps were never intended to be the sole resource for making decisions about flood risk.

harvey data

This image, from the article featured here, depicts how the flood maps in Houston, Texas aren't based on centuries of data. In many places, data only goes back 20 years.

There's a gap between the data those maps are built on and the floodplain boundaries themselves. To get from point A to point B, scientists have to make a lot of assumptions and extrapolations, building in layers of uncertainty that mean the final determination of what is and isn’t in the floodplain should never be thought of as exact...floodplain maps, and the regulations and insurance rates that come from them, are being handicapped by the metric they’re built on...the truth is there’s no perfect way to measure the risk of flooding — there’s always going to be some kind of gap of extrapolation between observed data and predicted risk.

But whether we could or should change the metric is different from whether we will...a change would require Americans to think differently about the way we balance safety with other concerns, such as the cost of constructing flood protection infrastructure or the freedom to build in places we maybe shouldn’t.

Read the full article!




What Flood Maps Mean For You

FloodSmart is the official website of the NFIP. This resource covers what flood maps are, why they change, and what changes could mean for homeowners, whether they're going to a lower or higher flood risk.

Click here to check it out!


Flood Risk and the U.S. Housing Market

This 38-page paper published by the University of Pennsylvania's Penn Institute for Urban Research and the Wharton Risk Management and Decision Process Center provides a great analysis of the impact of flood hazards in today's real estate market. It outlines public perception of flood risk, flood risk management, NFIP insurance, mitigation, impacts on property value, and proposals for future research.

Click here to download a PDF of the paper.


USGS New England Water Science Center - Maine

This site provides information on Maine's rivers and streams, groundwater, water quality, and many other topics. The USGS operates the most extensive satellite network of stream-gaging stations in the state, many of which form the backbone of flood-warning systems.
Click here to learn more about Maine's Water Resources

Not in Maine? Here's the link to the USGS Water Data for the Nation.


NFIP Terminology: Encroachments

Encroachments are activities or construction within the floodway including fill, new construction, substantial improvements, and other development.

These activities are prohibited within the adopted regulatory floodway unless it has been demonstrated through hydrologic and hydraulic analyses that the proposed encroachment would not result in any increase in flood levels.

The community is responsible for reviewing and maintaining record of the documentation demonstrating that any permitted floodway encroachment meets National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) requirements. A "no-rise certification" for floodways may be used to document the analyses.

(FEMA, 2018)


This diagram depicts fill and housing development as encroachments in the flood fringe. With the addition of those encroachments, the flood elevation creates a 1 foot surcharge, the maximum allowable surcharge for development in the flood fringe. Notice, this development is not permitted within the regulatory floodway. Image from Bee Creek Floodplain Management, published March 23, 2017.


Flood Fact

Wetlands in the U.S. save more than $30 billion in annual flood damage repair costs

Wetlands act as natural sponges, storing and slowly releasing floodwaters after peak flood flows have passed. A single acre of wetland, saturated to a depth of one foot, will retain 330,000 gallons of water – enough to flood thirteen average-sized homes thigh-deep.

This is why it is so important to reduce the amount of development in wetlands and floodplains!

Learn more facts about flooding from "American Rivers".

for sale

Real Estate Corner

Climate Change Insurance: Buy Land Somewhere Else

By Alyson Krueger, The New York Times, November 30, 2018

The federal government issued a report concluding that climate change would cause hundreds of billions of dollars in damage, and as much as 10 percent of the American economy could be destroyed by 2100 because of rising temperatures.

There is one group, however, that is slightly less anxious than the rest of us about this news: a small number of young professionals who are preparing homes away from the places where climate change is expected to strike the hardest.

Not quite survivalists, they are nonetheless teaching themselves essential life skills — like how to grow their own food and make their own electricity — just in case things spin out of control, and the government can’t step in to help. They believe they are making sound real estate decisions by buying land on high ground that will appreciate in value, while at the same time developing a Plan B.

Read more!


January Flood Funny

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