I have a friend who is fond of saying, “If rain falls on your roof, you need flood insurance.” Here are two telling statistics from the final Harvey report issued by Harris County Flood Control that dramatize that point. But there’s more than one type of flood insurance.
In Harvey, Two-Thirds of Flood Victims Had No Insurance
Of the 154,170 estimated homes flooded across Harris County from Harvey, only 36% had active flood insurance policies in place.
Of those 154,170 homes flooded, 105, 340 were outside the mapped 1% (100-yr) floodplain – 68%.
From these two statistics, you can tell that people thought being outside a mapped flood zone meant SAFETY. You can also see how tragically wrong they were.
Virtually ALL Humble Area Retired Teachers Have Flood Insurance
Monday morning I gave a talk to the Humble Area Retired Teachers Association (HARTA). There were probably 150-200 teachers in the room. I asked for a show of hands to see how many had flood insurance. Virtually every hand went up. Given the aforementioned statistics, this SHOCKED me.
There are two possibilities.
- People learned a lesson from Harvey and Imelda.
- The teachers in the room were smart!
I’m sure it’s a combination of both in this case. Teachers tend to be fast learners. But it was such a pleasant surprise. They set a great example for everyone!
FEMA needs to study HARTA to find out how to market flood insurance to the rest of the world.
Static Maps in a Changing World
How could the flood maps during Harvey have been so far off? It was a combination of things.
Of course, Harvey was a far larger-than-normal storm – the biggest ever to hit the continental US.
Second, flood maps are a stationary snapshot in time. They assume nothing changes.
But we also know that things DO change:
- The river changes every time it floods.
- There has been massive development upstream from us in Montgomery County in the last two decades.
- Conroe has been one of the fastest growing cities in America.
- That development increases runoff, shortens the time of accumulation for floodwaters, and causes higher flood peaks.
The one thing that hasn’t changed: Montgomery County flood maps. The County has not updated the data behind them since the 1980s. Parts of the county remain unmapped. And the County does not even employ a surveyor, according to an inside source.
Radical Example of Impact of Upstream Development
Uncontrolled upstream development can totally change the game. Here’s a personal example.
Back in 1980, I bought a home on Spring Creek in the Dallas area. It was built two feet above the hundred year flood plain. The next year, developers built the 250-acre Collin Creek Mall upstream from me in Plano. The creek behind my house started flooding on minor rains of less than a half inch. A three city commission between Garland, Richardson and Plano asked the Army Corps to investigate.
The Corps found that I was now 10 feet BELOW the 100-year flood plain instead of two feet ABOVE it. A 12-foot delta!
That’s how radically and quickly things can change from upstream development as the people in Elm Grove discovered.
New Flood Maps Being Developed
NOAA’s new Atlas-14 Rainfall statistics for this area are causing flood maps to be redrawn. The statistics reflect about 40% more rain for a 100-year flood. That means flood zones will expand.
When released in the next year or two, the new maps will open a lot of eyes for people who have not yet purchased flood insurance.
Net: If you don’t have flood insurance, get it.
Another Type of Flood Insurance
That brings us to another type of flood insurance not covered by FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program. It’s the kind of insurance that comes from situational awareness and community engagement.
The more aware we are of the causes of flooding…
The more engaged we are as citizens…
The more we insist that developers follow best practices…
…the safer we become.
NFIP insurance will partially reimburse you if you flood. But awareness and activism may keep you from flooding in the first place. We need both types of insurance. One without the other is a recipe for disaster.
We should not assume that some benevolent government agency in Montgomery County is watching over new development, protecting us. They are not. Period. They have other priorities and protecting downstream residents is rarely one of them. Even though Harris County is redrawing its flood maps, Montgomery County is not. That will make MoCo’s even MORE OUTDATED. That’s why we need vigilant, involved citizens.
Need Regional Flood Control
And even more, that’s why we need regional flood control, much as we have regional groundwater control. With groundwater withdrawals, one conservation district must get its plans approved by neighboring districts. Wouldn’t it be beautiful if we had a similar arrangement for flood control?
Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/11/2020
896 Days after Hurricane Harvey
The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.