Over the past few years, Gila County’s flood plain administrator Darde de Roulhac has worked with representatives of FEMA to bring the flood plain maps current. In the process, FEMA has invested $663,280 in Gila County.
The work FEMA did with de Roulhac and future projects were discussed in a work session of the Gila County Board of Supervisors Feb. 23.
Included in the work was the use of new technology to provide a clearer picture of flood plains throughout the county. Much of the county’s zoning regulations based on flood plains were developed about 40 years ago using topographical maps on which they drew general boundaries to show the floodway and flood plains. The new technology has created maps that show actual flood elevations in detail. When implemented, some properties could come out of the flood plain and others could become included.
This work is part of FEMA’s Risk MAP (mapping, assessment and planning) program. Michael Bishop from FEMA explained the program provides natural hazard data and risk assessment tools, technical support, and outreach materials to strengthen the local capacity to make better, more informed decisions about reducing risk and increasing resilience.
The program has looked at 145 stream miles in the county, most are in the south, but there are also several in the north: three different stretches of the East Verde River, Christopher Creek, Tonto Creek, Hardt Creek and Gold Creek.
Bishop said the benefits for updated hazard information for mitigation create data for conversations about existing flood risk and ways to reduce future losses. It also helps to understand that the current information (the flood plain designations from topographical maps) does not adequately identify flood hazards, it provides engineering data and initial review of expected flood hazards before a more detailed study is initiated, and offers insights into how modifications of the build environment may change risk and future flood losses.
He said the process, from mapping, assessment and planning to actual implementation could take from five to seven years, plus, there is no guarantee of the amount of funding that would be available from year to year. Gila County is part of one of 10 different FEMA districts, Bishop said, and all request funding from the same pot of money.
Dist. 1 Gila County Supervisor Steve Christensen asked Bishop, “What happens when a property comes into the flood plain when it wasn’t before?”
He responded the property owners need to protect themselves and purchase flood insurance, which is available through FEMA. An evacuation route needs to be established and the structure might need to be elevated or moved to higher ground. Bishop said FEMA also has programs to help property owners elevate existing structures as a defense against flooding.