Changes to city flood plain maps will soon go public in Round Rock, prompted by the once-a-decade massive overhaul to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's maps. Williamson County residents can check to see if their property is in a flood plain here. Click on the "I want to" tab to complete an address search.
Pflugerville and Hutto continue to address their alterations, complying with federal regulations, officials said. A team effort during the last few months between Round Rock, Upper Brushy Creek Water Control and Improvement District and Williamson County includes making the changes and informing the residents of what to do next.
The result can be additional costs in mandatory flood insurance if a resident or business owner's property is added to the flood plain. Some properties have also been removed from the high risk list.
Many factors go into identifying flood plain designations between map updates. Officials said several heavy rain events in the past several years, along with continued development throughout Round Rock, have given the city a much better look at where the water goes and where concerns exist.
“We can identify the flood risk better now,” said Ryan Beardmore, stormwater systems analyst for Round Rock Utilities and Environmental Services. “It will be communicated to the homeowners whether they have been added to the flood plain or are no longer part of it. There are changes on each side.”
For home and business owners in a flood plain, officials said it means extra insurance costs. But it also means coverage when floodwaters invade, something traditional homeowners’ insurance will not cover if one is in the designated flood plain area.
Round Rock officials have worked closely with other municipalities and entities, including the Upper Brushy Creek Water Control and Improvement District, which is responsible for operation and continuous updates of 23 dams in Williamson County. Most of the dams are located in Round Rock, Leander, Cedar Park and Hutto.
Ruth Haberman, general manager of the WCID, said the district continues to work closely with local emergency responders to refine data.
Updates include the modernization of two dams, work that Haberman said should start toward the end of 2017 and finish at the end of 2018.
“That completes the original [dam update] program,” Haberman said. “In the meantime, the two remaining district dams were reclassified to high hazard, based on downstream impacts in the event of a dam failure, not based on the condition of the dam. One of those dams already meets state requirements, but we will need to evaluate the other for remediation needs and funding opportunity.”
Haberman said the district has initiated a watershed-wide evaluation to develop a long-term capital remediation plan to address infrastructure maintenance and repair needs.
With much-valued information from the WCID, Round Rock and surrounding communities all feed their information to FEMA and its National Flood Insurance Program. The goal of the NFIP, according to www.fema.gov, is to reduce the impact of flooding on private and public structures by providing affordable insurance to property owners and encouraging communities to adopt and enforce flood plain management regulations.
Round Rock actually increased mandates from the federal guidelines to further protect homes and businesses in the city.
Hutto continues to update its flood plain maps.
“The proposed flood plain maps and models were submitted to FEMA in December 2015,” said Danielle Singh, Hutto’s assistant city manager and executive director of engineering and public works. “We have recently received revised maps from FEMA and will be working with them on any necessary changes and public input before the new regulatory maps go into effect.”
Cities submit their changes to FEMA. After a review process, the maps are updated. Representatives from FEMA work with municipal officials before the map updates become official.
City of Round Rock officials define a flood plain as the flat, low area of high-risk land adjacent to waterways, such as rivers and creeks, that has a 1 percent or greater chance of being inundated by water in any given year—also known as a 100-year-flood.
A flood plain is beneficial for filtering storm water and decreasing the severity of floods, allowing the water to safely flow back to the rivers, streams and developed drainage systems with minimal danger to life and property.
FEMA, which came into existence in 1979, developed its first maps in the 1980s, said Round Rock City Engineer Danny Halden, an engineer with the city for 30 years. Halden, named 2016 Floodplain Manager of the Year by the Texas Floodplain Management Association, said Round Rock has done a good job over the years of identifying and protecting growth near the city’s flood plains, which have been tested recently when quick, heavy bursts of rain hit the area.
“Around here, a flash flood is a different deal,” Halden said, listing different awareness programs, including the Turn Around, Don’t Drown campaign and Flash Flood Awareness Week. “Updating the maps is quite a process. There is a lot of data, and there have been a lot of changes to the city.”
In Hutto, Singh said recent flooding events “have provided new data for flood plain modeling efforts and have increased public awareness.”
The next round of changes aren't anticipated anytime soon, officials said.
The current FEMA map was last updated in September 2008. FEMA initiated a partial update in 2010, and the WCID commenced development of a flood protection plan in 2012. Round Rock and other communities have used the FEMA and WCID information as a base for comprehensive mapping updates. In Round Rock, a team that includes Stormwater Programs Manager Alysha Girard; Beardmore; Halden; and Michael Thane, utilities and environmental services director, are providing the latest information to FEMA.
“New development requirements account for the future development,” Thane said. “We have learned from several events.”
The greatest test, according to officials, was Tropical Storm Hermine in September 2010, when the National Weather Service logged 14- to 16-inch rain totals in the Cedar Park and Georgetown areas. According to officials, Hermine, along with the Memorial Day weekend flood in 2015, are recent historical weather events that pointed out the strengths and shortcomings of the city’s flood plain designations.
“Nothing prepares you for rain like that,” Girard said. “Being able to monitor and record data like we do has helped. We are better equipped to handle a flood because we’ve planned the city to keep property and residents as safe as possible.”
If a property is in the designated flood plain, then it is high-risk. Special insurance is required, either purchased by the homeowner through their agent or assessed to the homeowner through federally backed or issued mortgages. The latter often costs much more. Flood risks have designations of high risk, moderate to low risk, and undetermined risk areas as categories. Although it is mandatory to have insurance in the high-risk category, floods may happen in the moderate and undetermined risk areas. Flood insurance is available to all homeowners.
Round Rock Farmers Insurance agent Philip Gunter said he lived in a flood plain for 17 of his 20 years in the area.
“Seven years ago, our home flooded, so not only did I live on a flood plain and have a flood policy, I also had a major flood claim where we had to vacate our house,” Gunter said. “It was a major lifesaver.”
Gunter said homeowners’ policies do not cover floods. The policies he sells as a flood insurance specialist are always through the FEMA program. He said roughly 10 percent of his clients include flood insurance policies. He no longer lives in a flood plain, but he urges those who do to purchase the security of a policy through their agent.
“No homeowners' policy I’ve ever seen covers a flood,” Gunter said. “And flood policies don’t cover what a standard home policy covers.”
Round Rock officials said they will get as much information out as possible in April and May, helping residents understand what they need to do if they are in a designated flood plain.
To ensure those affected by the map revision process have an opportunity for input, FEMA will allow a six-month compliance period while new maps are printed and distributed. A public comment and appeal period is expected to run from June through August, Beardmore said, and no comprehensive updates are expected for another 10 years.
Round Rock expects the entire process to be completed by FEMA by August 2018.