Olsson Associates

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Preparing for floods vital to a healthy, safe community

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Brian Varrella, PE, CFM, Water Resources

Used by permission of City of Fort Collins; © 2013, City of Fort Collins, Colorado, all rights reservedAs any flood survivor knows, water’s extreme power can have a significant impact on people’s lives. That’s why preparing for floods is critical for communities. Olsson Associates has professionals who are experts in helping communities stay safe from flooding.

Regardless of how big or small the municipality or county, officials can do three simple things to effectively prepare for and manage the threat of flooding. These activities include:

  • Identifying hazardous areas
  • Developing a sound floodplain management program
  • Participating in the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Community Rating System (CRS)

Identify hazardous areas

Managing flood risks for the public starts with identifying hazardous areas where flooding is most likely to occur. Olsson team members have been analyzing rivers, creeks, and urban waterways in one-dimensional and two-dimensional hydraulic models for almost 20 years. Over the past 15 years, the computing power to create dynamic watersheds has become exponentially more affordable, allowing Olsson to provide clients with new flood risk maps that more closely match real data from flood warning systems and historic storms.

Develop a floodplain management program

Another method communities can utilize to proactively manage flood threats is to establish an efficient floodplain management program. Smaller and more-rural communities often cannot afford a full-time floodplain manager. However, desktop systems can be developed to provide services and risk mapping on demand.

Olsson works with small municipalities to fulfill several floodplain management roles. These activities include:

  • Assessing existing land-use codes to determine if there are gaps between the community’s vision for flood safety and what the code currently supports
  • Developing a storm drainage master plan for at-risk portions of a community
  • Identifying funding sources for installing storm drainage improvements

Participate in a CRS

Participating in FEMA’s CRS is a win-win proposition that merges risk mapping with floodplain management solutions. The CRS rewards a community’s work to maintain a functioning stormwater drainage system. It also rewards community activities that go beyond minimum National Flood Insurance Program standards.

In addition, the CRS program offers discounted flood insurance rates for implementing a variety of activities that include the following:

  • Identifying floodplain lands through detailed mapping, then converting it to community open space
  • Creating a flood warning system that identifies flood risks before they damage a community
  • Creating effective emergency responses that work with the flood warning system to notify residents of possible impending flood dangers

A community’s CRS “rating” is lowered based on the number and kinds of floodplain and stormwater management activities accomplished. A lower score results in greater discounts on flood insurance rates. In addition to the money savings for business owners and homeowners, CRS participation can make a community safer, reduce damage to property and public infrastructure, and enhance environmental assets. Most communities receive a base level rating of a Class 9 or 10 (out of 10), depending on the work they are already doing and the credits they receive from state activities and policies. Just like the game of golf, the lower the score the better.

Taking action

One example of taking measures to prevent flooding was seen in the Cache La Poudre River floodplain in Fort Collins, Colorado. There, proactively preserving open space helped prevent a major disaster during the September 2013 regional flood event. In addition, emergency on-call procedures developed from flood risk mapping and monitored by the flood warning network functioned together to save lives, prevent property damage, and keep a town safe during a major flood event. All of these systems (and others) help Fort Collins maintain a Class 4 CRS rating and provide a discount of up to 30 percent on flood insurance premiums. Such evidence shows that CRS participation pays off.

Prior to joining Olsson a few months ago as a hydraulic engineer on Olsson’s Water Resources team, I was the floodplain manager for the City of Fort Collins and Weld County, Colorado. In addition, I have survived flood damages from three floods in my lifetime. For more information about how I and the Olsson team can help with floodplain management services or to explore CRS participation, please contact the Water Resources team at 970.461.7733.

Used by permission of City of Fort Collins; © 2013, City of Fort Collins, Colorado, all rights reserved

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