Originally Published: December 17, 2017 6 a.m.
The dynamic course of Prescott’s creeks could mean floodplain changes this spring for area property owners – some that will be good news, and some that likely will not.
Potentially hundreds of property owners along or near Prescott’s waterways could see changes in their flood-insurance requirements in March 2018 when updated floodplain maps become effective.
For some, the map changes will mean they no longer are in the floodplain. Others, however, will be included in the flood hazard area for the first time.
City officials say they have been working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for about seven years to update the “flood hazards area” maps along creeks in Prescott.
The work will culminate on March 6, 2018, when the new maps are scheduled to go into effect. The years-long process included several public meetings to explain the pending changes, as well as the mailing of several-thousand informational postcards.
Marc DuBroy, city drainage engineer and floodplain administrator, emphasizes that the update was prompted by changing realities on the ground.
“It’s not about putting people in or out (of the floodplain),” he said this past week. “It’s about recognizing the real risk.”
DuBroy noted that waterways tend to change over time. Prescott’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) maps date back to 1977, say DuBroy and Jeff Low, a project manager in the Public Works Department.
Since that time, only minor changes have been made, they say. The pending comprehensive map revision will be the first of its kind since the inception of the program in the city.
“The main thing we were seeing is the delineations were wrong,” DuBroy said of the existing maps. “For us, it’s about the accuracy of mapping.”
The city mailed out about 2,300 postcards to properties that are expected to be affected by the updated maps.
“There will be a range of impacts to people,” DuBroy said, adding that the specifics “can get complicated.”
For instance, a certain number will no longer be in the floodplain, while another number will be brought in. A significant number of property owners also will remain in the floodplain, with little difference in their requirements.
DuBroy said he is still working to compile the exact numbers for a future presentation to the Prescott City Council.
The National Flood Insurance Program was created in 1968 in response to significant flood losses in the 1950s and 1960s, DuBroy said, which created an environment in which “nobody could get flood insurance.”
In order for communities to take part in the federal flood-insurance program, he said they were required to enforce a set of floodplain regulations.
Among the regulations are rules for building in the floodplain. “The consensus was, ‘let’s stop building things that keep getting flooded,’” he said.
For instance, he said, FEMA requires that major renovations to existing homes and businesses in the floodplain must take steps to mitigate future flooding risks.
For renovations that amount to 50 percent or more of the value of the property, residential owners are required to elevate the floor level, DuBroy said, while commercial owners have a number of other options as well, including construction of a flood wall around the property.
The measures were based on flood levels that had a 1-percent chance of occurring in a given year, DuBroy said, which has come to be known as the “100-year event.”
He maintains that “FEMA took the middle ground. They term it reasonable protection from flooding.
“You can’t eliminate risk, but you can manage it.”
With Granite Creek running through much of Prescott’s downtown, DuBroy said the floodplain includes “a pretty big swath of the downtown.”
One area that will feel the impacts from the revised maps will be The Gardens, a residential area off Willow Creek Road, near the Willow Lake Road intersection.
DuBroy said about 100 homes there will be included in the floodplain, and property owners likely would be receiving letters from their lenders about the need for flood insurance.
DuBroy and Low point out that homeowners in newly mapped areas will have one year to purchase the insurance at a reduced premium rate.
After getting started on the revision in about 2009, the city worked for years with FEMA, which issued a letter of final determination this past September.
More information about the map revision and how it affects individual flood risks is available online at: www.floodmapupdates.com.
A disclaimer on the property-search section of the site explains that the Yavapai County Flood Control District has provided the site for general-information purposes only.
“It is NOT an official document,” the site states. Rather, it says the site is designed to locate and identify flood plain areas in Yavapai County for personal use.