By Katie Agness
Due to a recent study conducted by the National Weather Service, many home and business owners may find that their properties now fall within the floodplains, which could result in additional flood insurance or more extensive building and development restrictions. The study, called Atlas 14, found that Austin and Central Texas could be more prone to severe flooding.
Previously, Austin’s floodplain maps were developed for the 100-year storm, where data showed that the Austin area had a 1 percent chance each year of having more than 10.2 inches of rain in a single day. However, new research shows that the 100-year storm should produce closer to 13 inches of rain fall in parts of Austin, resembling the 500-year storm.
“The Atlas 14 draft study shows the Austin area to be one of the most significantly impacted areas in the State of Texas,” Ted Heaton, insurance agent for State Farm. “In general, this means that in Austin, what had been considered a 500-year rainfall is in fact a 100-year rainfall. This indicates that many homes and businesses in Austin may be expected to flood more frequently than had been previously thought.”
According to Kevin Shunk, managing engineer with the Watershed Protection Department, the City of Austin is making recommendations to amend the Land Development Code to ensure the safety of residents in the event of flooding. “Since the new 100-year storm resembles our current 500-year storm, we propose to use the current 500-year floodplain as the regulatory floodplain. This interim change would be in effect until we re-study Austin’s floodplain, which will take approximately two years. Our current timeline indicates that we will take a draft ordinance to City Council for consideration in December.”
Home and business owners within the new floodplain area will be affected by the changes. “City code changes are planned first, which will impose restrictions on properties in the 500-year floodplain if owners want to develop, expand, remodel or improve those properties,” says Bill F. Morris, broker associate for RE/MAX. “Although this work in Austin won’t directly affect FEMA flood maps, when the changes are effective at that level, then many property owners with mortgages who don’t have flood insurance now will be required to get it, and some that do have flood insurance will need more extensive coverage than in the past.”
The floodplain changes will affect an additional 3,200 buildings and 2 percent of the city area. There are currently 4,000 properties within the 100-year floodplain, which is approximately 9 percent of the city area. The 500-year floodplain includes a total of 7,200 homes, making up 11 percent of the city area.
While the changes to Austin’s floodplains maps will be impacting residents and property owners, the ultimate goal is to keep people safe and secure by imposing building restrictions that can better handle flooding and to insure them in the unfortunate event of flood damage or destruction. “There could be financial impacts to homeowners who will be in the new 100-year floodplain due to the cost of flood insurance,” Shunk says. “We feel that it is important for people to understand the flood risk at their home and to keep themselves and their families safe. Having your home flooded is a devastating experience. Understanding the flood risk and planning accordingly is very important to residents.”
According to Morris, another consideration is Congress’ reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program before a temporary extension expires in November 2018. “If that isn’t done, then owners with mortgages on affected properties will be forced to buy flood insurance in the private market, which historically has been much more expensive,” he says. “Even if NFIP is renewed, it is likely to include premiums that more accurately reflect insured risks and that may also mean higher costs than in the past.”
For current owners, it’s important to contact an insurance professional to confirm whether or not the property is in a current flood zone or whether their current flood insurance protection remains extensive enough. This is also true for homeowners interested in making additions or changes to their current structure. For those in the market for a new home, verify the property’s location within the 100-year and 500-year floodplain maps and request a flood zone check from an insurance provider, as they can help assess whether the property is at risk and the extent of changes or renovations.
“Every property in the USA is in a flood zone,” Heaton says. “The question is the relativity of the property flooding in the next 25 years, 50 years, 100 years, 200 years and beyond. It is important for all property owners to remember that just because their property is not in a ‘hazardous’ flood zone does not mean their property will not flood. Proper maintenance of their property and watching what occurs in major rain events is critical to gauge whether flood insurance may be appropriate for their situation.”
The Austin Board of REALTORS® and the City of Austin Watershed Department are partnering to offer REALTORS® an opportunity to learn, first hand, how proposed changes to Austin’s floodplains will impact residential property. Make plans to attend this program on Monday, October 15th to learn more about the City’s proposed floodplain amendments and how these changes will impact properties throughout the City. Click here for more information.