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Style: Folsom | El Dorado Hills

Flood for Thought

Sep 19, 2017 09:19AM ● By Style

Houston is underwater and Florida was evacuated. This is truly horrible. This not only can happen here, it will happen here. The only question is when. Sacramento may have the highest flood risk for any City in the United States. There are several climate patterns that can cause floods in California:  El Nino, La Nina, Pineapple Express, and Atmospheric River and others. All of them are capable of creating a major flood.  All of them have happened many times before. All of them will happen again.

The risk is well documented.  Here is a major study by explaining the risk:

Everyone should read paragraph 3.11.2:

Development in floodplains increases the number of lives and property assets at risk.  The public and policymakers often do not understand that flood infrastructure only reduces flood risk but cannot eliminate the risk.  In fact, infrastructure often reduces flood risk enough for an area to comply with the requirements for flood insurance, making urban development possible in areas where it once was not.     

This is exactly what happened in Houston. It is what is happening in Natomas.

The Sacramento Bee has published several articles, dating back years that should be considered a dire warning:

“’Taxpayers have spent billions of dollars on dams, levees and by passes to keep Sacramento and other Central Valley towns and cities from flooding, but experts say the infrastructure would prove no match for a mega storm like the one that hit Houston last week.’  ‘It’s still going to flood someday,’ said Jeffrey Mont, a watershed expert with the Public Policy Institute of California.  ‘There’s still going to be that rare large event, which will overwhelm us.’

Major storms are rare.  No one alive was here the last time one hit Sacramento.  Major storms are notoriously hard to predict.  We all remember hearing weather forecasts that were beyond frightening, but the storm fizzled out.  We also remember forecasts for minor storms that ended up being far worse than expected.  Even the best meteorologist cannot predict exactly what a storm may do.  In 2005 Hurricane Rita was a Category 5 hurricane headed toward Houston.  The city was evacuated, with disastrous results.  Rita missed.  This year when Hurricane Harvey was forecast to hit Houston, the city wasn’t evaluated.  Harvey didn’t miss.  

How do we prepare for something really major that may not even happen in our lifetime?   If we ignore the threat, and we guess wrong, the results are catastrophic. It has been reported that 85% of homes in Houston don’t have flood insurance.  Now we learn that 50% of Florida homes, located in flood zones don’t have insurance.  Those people who have flood insurance will recover much faster than those who don’t.  Some who don’t have flood insurance may never recover.  Don’t assume that FEMA will throw money at you to rebuild your home if it is damaged in a flood.  At some point there will be major resistance to spending tax payer dollars on homes guaranteed to flood again.

In Louisiana building codes were revised because of Hurricane Katrina.  In Sacramento, after the 1860-61 flood, buildings were required to be elevated by several feet.  You can see this today in Old Town Sacramento.   If there is a major flood, new more restrictive building codes are almost certain.  This means first, someone will have to decide on the new codes.  This may take months or even years.  Then it will take more time before inspection departments, design professionals, contractors and subcontractors are able to learn and implement the new codes.  

We can’t live our lives in fear over something that may or may not happen during our lifetime.  So we have suggestions that everyone can consider now.  These are just common sense suggestions, regardless of what storms may come.

  • Start by doing some research.  Check out the flood map for your home.  That will tell you if you are definitely in a flood zone or not.  Any insurance agent licensed to sell flood insurance can run a flood zone determination in about five minutes.  Anything other than Zone X is definitely in a flood zone. If you are in a flood zone other than X, buy flood insurance.
  • If you live in Zone X, that does not mean you are not in a flood zone.  It just means you can buy cheap flood insurance.  Some Flood Zone X homes have very low flood risk, but other homes are in flood prone areas.  Don’t assume you don’t need flood insurance just because you are in Zone X.
  • Look at the land and structures around you.  If your home is lower than the top of a levee, you are in a flood zone.  
  • If your home is down river from a dam or a reservoir you are in a flood zone.  (Remember the Oroville Dam?) 
  • If your home is near a lake, reservoir, river or stream you are probably in a flood zone.  ALL streams have a flood plain, but not all streams have been mapped by FEMA.  Absence of a flood zone map is not evidence of absence of flood risk.    
  • If you are in or near a flood zone, seriously consider buying flood insurance.  In most years, you won’t need it.  Not purchasing flood insurance will save you less than $500 per year.  If your home floods and you don’t have flood insurance you will almost certainly be faced with a catastrophic uninsured loss.  Can you really afford to make that mistake?  Don’t assume that FEMA will bail you out.  That is far from true.
  • If you are in or near a flood zone the time to plan for an evacuation is now.  If you wait until some authority issues an evacuation order, you probably have waited too long.  Remember what happened earlier this year when they tried to evacuate Oroville.  Don’t wait until water is flowing down your street before deciding on your evacuation route.
  • Know the evacuation risk for your home.  The time to scout out a route is now.  Remember that 1 ft. of water will make roads impassable for most cars.  That can happen in a matter of minutes, particularily if there is a problem with a levee.  Remember that in New Orleans a lot of people thought they had dodged a bullet, until the levees started failing.
  • Plan ahead with regard to where you will go and what you will take.  This should include plans if you have hours to prepare and plans if you have zero time to prepare.
  • Learn the shortest and safest route to high ground, not just by car but by any other means.  Some people in Houston walked to safety.  In Sacramento, there actually is no high ground, but there are two story buildings including parking garages, etc.  Your evacuation plan may include walking to the nearest place where you can get above the water.  One will note that some people in Houston evacuated to a freeway overpass.  
  • Plan ahead to communicate with friends and relatives.  Don’t assume that cell phones will be working.  If your friends and relatives know where you will go if you have to evacuate it will be easier for them to connect with you.  
  • Know how to signal for help.  Sometimes authorities have hundreds if not thousands of homes in a flood zone.  In Houston, people were told to hang a white sheet in front of the house.  I personally have a flashing beacon light that I carry in my cars and always have available at home.  If no one knows you need help, you may wait a long long time for rescue.

FEMA prepares flood maps and they usually describe a 100 year flood.  One problem is that 100 year floods seem to happen a lot more frequently than anyone expects.  Don’t assume that FEMA knows what a 100 year flood looks like.  They are constantly changing maps when new data becomes available, usually after an unexpected flood.  Perhaps the best way to understand the risk is if your house is in a 100 year flood zone there is a 26% chance that your home will flood within a 30 year period.  Your home is five times more likely to be damaged by flood than by a severe fire.

During every major storm, we receive phone calls from people who want to buy flood insurance.  If you wait until it starts raining, you have waited too long.  The standard waiting period on a flood policy is 30 days.  


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